Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Are Your New Year's Resolutions? Part One

Time for New Year’s resolutions! Or, if you are like me, you may have tried it once and, come February, thrown the whole idea overboard only to become cynical about the life-changes people struggle with come January 2 (can’t start on the 1st, that’s a day off). And it’s always the same old thing every year. The top resolutions rarely change. The leader is to lose weight, followed by getting fit, getting out of debt, stop smoking, stop drinking, getting organized, and so on, and so on. Why is it that you never hear anyone say, “This year, I’m going to eat more chocolate” or “I plan on sitting in front of the TV eating Cheetos and watching reality television at least 30 hours a week”? It is because those things are easy to us. They are natural. Pleasing the flesh is natural. Resolutions are about bringing the flesh into submission, which, to the Christian, is not only Biblical, it is commanded.

Resolutions to be subject to God go back as far as God given commands. When Moses read the Law to the children of Israel as told in Exodus 24, verse 7, the people responded by saying, “All that the Lord has said, we will do, and be obedient.” Many years later, when Hezekiah became king and restored Godly worship to Israel, he set in his heart to once again observe the Passover, which had not been done for quite some time, perhaps over 200 years. In 2 Chronicles 30:5, it says that the leaders of Israel resolved to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem. And in verse 20, we see that God is pleased with them.

In the New Testament, we see commands scattered throughout, calling the child of God to be self-controlled and obedient. In Acts 24:25, Paul reasons with Felix about righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come. Notice the progression? It is righteousness, then self-control, then judgment. 2 Peter 1: 5-6 says we are, with diligence, to add to our faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self control… Why? Because we are partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (more about this in part two).

So we are commanded by God to be resolute in putting to death the flesh and heed the things of God. The flesh is no longer a slave to sin, but it has been trained well by sin. The flesh often wants to go back to the things it once knew. It does not want to become weak as the spiritual man becomes strong. Our problem is that we grow weary in running. There is great difficulty in denying the flesh. It cries out for more and more. Why do you think Paul likened the Christian life to running a race? Running is not easy for those who do not do it and do it often. It takes much self discipline to become a good runner. The flesh must be brought into subjection when it comes to eating, drinking, sleeping, and enduring. But when a dedicated runner reaches his objective, he finds that the sacrifices made along the way are nothing compared to reaching his goal. As the writer of Hebrews says: let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The race is clear. Our goal is Christ. And He calls us to run to Him, building up our endurance and bringing the flesh into subjection to do so.

So why is it so important? Many see Christianity as their ticket to heaven. It is a matter of obtaining a get-out-of-hell-free card. While getting into heaven and staying out of hell are certainly part of the divine transaction, the greater part of salvation is God bringing rebels out of their blind state of spiritual death and changing them from God-hating sinners to the God-loving redeemed who long to know their Savior and are pressing toward the goal of knowing Him in His fullness and His glory. Going to heaven is a great benefit, but the goal of knowing our God surpasses all. Our flesh, however, is a barrier to knowing and experiencing our God this side of death. Therefore, we are called to be self-controlled in order to experience God even more.

The spiritual realm is the reality we cannot comprehend well with our physical senses. Yet the two are inexplicably linked in ways we don’t understand. We want to think of the two being completely separate, but they are not. If they were, we would not be told to be self-controlled throughout the New Testament. And I also know this from personal experience. As a person who, at one time, was in tremendous physical shape, I know what can be lost in a spiritual sense when the flesh is allowed to dominate. Now, as I am obese, I find my spiritual senses often dulled as compared to the days when my body was under control in that area. The flesh puts up a fight, but I find that times of great spiritual fulfillment are accompanied with a body whose desires are under control and subdued.

What I need in this new year is to know my Savior even more. It is a God-given desire I am thankful for, and running that race means bringing my flesh into subjection. There are a few areas I need great help with, and God will do that. I must see the flesh die more in order to know him more.

There is one caveat in a study like this, however. We cannot see our salvation based upon us doing such things. Salvation is through Christ alone through His grace. Otherwise, we are pursuing salvation by our works, which can never be done. The same grace that saved us is the same grace that causes our hearts to want to persevere. And perseverance is a lifelong journey. There will be issues of the flesh that we will be struggling with all the way up until our deaths. At that time, Christ will give us the final victory over our flesh and complete our sanctification. This post is not about trying to be perfect to please our Lord. If you are converted and belong to Him, your worth and acceptance is found in Christ, not in what you do. This post is about Christians longing to experience more of Him by pursuing the grace He has given us that is molding us into His image.

More to come in part two.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas from RTM

In thinking about Christmas this year, my mind is drawn to the power of God’s plan. We sing about the tiny baby, wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. We think of him as helpless infant, cradled in the arms of Mary, just like any other baby would have been. And while these things are certainly true, a much bigger picture was unfolding in the spiritual realm. Here is God, intervening in the dilemma of man. Here is God, in the flesh, interjecting Himself into the suffering of mankind in order to save it.

What makes this even more amazing is that God was saving us from Himself. Every man, from Adam until now, is an enemy of God by his wicked works. God’s holiness cannot tolerate our imperfection. Therefore, God had no choice but to be done with the human race and pour out His infinite wrath upon us all. Yet He did not. When Adam sinned, God did not pulverize him at that very instant. Why did he not? That seems to make God unjust. A just judge does not let the guilty go free. But that very first Christmas, God was introducing the whole of creation to His justice. On that day, divinity burst in to humanity. It was only by this that God could save us. The babe in the manger would grow and take our stead. Christ would stand in the gap, and God would be proven to be just as He poured His infinite wrath down upon His only Son in the last hours of His life. God is not unjust. From the Old Testament saints who, while still sinners, God allowed to live and counted them as righteous, to us now, who carry the stain of sin deep within our flesh, there is one who, while fully divine, learned what it meant to be a man and lay down His life for His brothers. Hebrews 5:7-9 says: “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”

And even though He laid down His life, it was His to take up again. And now, He, a man, sits at the right hand of God on our behalf, making intercession for us. That is the meaning of Christmas. It is among the greatest of miracles. The angels stood, looking through the portals of heaven, watching as their God became flesh and lowered Himself to live upon a sin-sick world and allowed Himself to be abused, mistreated, and killed at the hands of those He came to save. Oh, how they must have marveled at the Master’s plan.

May we be even more eager to look into His plan to marvel and wonder at a God who loves us so. And if you have not come to Him, humble and repentant, trusting in Him for the salvation of your soul, may you look upon the Christ child and tremble. For the one who came to save will one day be your judge. And he stands ready to dash you against the rocks of His wrath, which you will endure for eternity.

And Mary brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“ Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Worst Day Ever!

Imagine this: Your alarm clock sounds at the usual time, alerting you that is time to get up, get the kids off to school, and get ready for work. This morning, you reach over to hit the snooze, only to accidentally turn the alarm off. The next sound you hear is the honking of the school bus as it briefly stops in front of your home and then pulls away toward the next stop. You jolt up in a panic. In a frenzy, you fly around the house, getting kids ready for school and yourself ready for work. You manage to pull everything together so as to maybe get the kids to school on time. You breeze out the door only to see a flat tire on your car. You’ve never changed a flat before, but by the time you make a call, get someone to come out, and get it changed, you’ll be even more behind than if you did it yourself. Forty-five minutes later, you wonder if your previous decision was a correct one, but now the tire is changed and you can’t go back. You are now disheveled, there is dirt under your nails, and you smell a bit sweaty. You rush the kids to school and sign them in as tardy as the principal stands behind the desk in the front office and gives you the you-have-to-be-the-worst-parent-in-the-world look. You get to work and hour and a half late, and there is a voice mail on your phone. The boss wants to see you immediately. You timidly go to his office, only to find out that his day must be just as bad as yours for he has no desire to hear your reason for being late. Amid flying spit and flailing arms, you are issued a warning to never be late again.

Sound like the beginnings of the worst day ever? In all honesty, it does. The first few hours of your waking time have been wrought with confusion, frustration, and opposition at every turn. But times such as these really try us, and our reactions can tell us much about our mindset. Is our reaction to be one of despair, helplessness, and anger? Or is it to be one of hope, trust, and faith? As Christians, we know the answer should be the second one, right? But why is it often not that way?

First, an ungodly reaction shows that we have a mentality of permanence. That is, we think things around us are stable and permanent. Now we always say the right things such as ‘nothing is guaranteed,’ ‘the next breath could be the last,’ and so on. But we really don’t think that way from day to day. We believe that today, for the most part, will be like yesterday, and tomorrow will pretty much be the same as well. Any changes are premeditated and planned, so those are OK. But we really don’t have the mentality that things around us are unstable and situations can change at any moment. We have become masters at controlling our environments. . . or so we think. But scripture points out that such thinking is ungodly. When Amos prophesied the destruction of Israel, he said in chapter 9 verse 10 that “All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘The calamity shall not overtake nor confront us.’” God knew that deep down in their hearts and minds, they really did not believe that God would bring any calamity upon them. The thought is continued in the New Testament when Jesus, in Luke 12, tells the story of a man who decides to hoard some of his bountiful crops so he does not have to work for the next few years and enjoy some time off. But God said to him, ‘”Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” The man thought his life would be pretty much the same for the next few years, so since he had a great abundance, he would kick back and relax. But those years were not his to have. An attitude of impermanence is central to the Christian life and is woven throughout scripture. We are implored to be watchful and ready to take flight at any moment when our savior rends the skies and reveals Himself in glory. The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 illustrates this well. It has also entered into our Christian vocabulary where we are often described as pilgrims. A pilgrim is a transient; one who is traveling through and not entangled in the affairs of the areas he visits. Otherwise, he is bogged down and no longer traveling.

I like to think of it in terms of a wartime mentality as described by John Piper. The soldier moving through enemy territory travels light. He is only concerned about guarding himself and his fellow soldiers and making it to his destination. Even minor provisions are enough to keep him on his mission. He notices the things around him, but only from the viewpoint of how the enemy might use them to hinder or even destroy him. A vine could be concealing a trip wire. A grove of fruit trees may be the perfect place for the enemy to dig a pit. A seemingly mild distraction could be the ploy to get the soldier to lay down his arms. So are our days upon this earth. And an entanglement with the idea of permanence is one of distraction by the enemy. And, in the end, such an attitude can be one of a very anti-Christ spirit. Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3 that “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”

But there is one other thing such days can reveal, and that is where we place our trust. We trust in our cars to start every morning and for there to be air in the tires when we start to roll down the driveway. We trust that the school bus will arrive on time and that when we get to work we will have a job, just like the day before. We trust in so many things without even thinking twice. And the trust runs so deep that when we have the flat tire, or the car doesn’t start, or we are threatened with that job loss, our worlds can be rocked. These things have revealed our misplaced trust. If we trusted in Christ the same way, these things would not have the effect that they do. They would not control us. We take comfort in the things that are from God, yet not in God Himself. Our God is comfort, in the end. And ultimately, we have betrayed the only One who is worthy of our trust. When our faith is properly aligned in the person and integrity of Jesus Christ, these things do not destroy or derail us. It is in Him that we can be assured that He is working all things for His glory and our good if we are called by Him. In fact, trying times are times of great blessing because we know that we can “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4.

So may we see the world as it is: waning, temporal, and not our home. And that becomes ever more evident as we see God for who He is: everlasting, permanent, and trustworthy.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Trust and Obey, There is No Other Way!

I recently heard a pastor say something interesting about the way God’s promises are presented in Scripture. The realization of many of His promises comes as the result of our obeying His commands. In other words, God commanded something, and, if we act, His promise will follow. As the pastor said, God’s promise undergirds our obedience.

But for those of us who may take the sovereignty of God to an extreme, this seems contrary to what we think about Him. We think that God is in control of everything, which He is, and that God will bring about whatever He wants to bring about, which He will, so we may have a tendency to flop back like a wet rag and say, “God, you have to do this for me!” But if many of God’s promises are dependent on our obedience, He says, “I will. . . when you obey.”

An example of this comes from a recent discussion I had with some friends. The topic of besetting sins came up. These are sins that continue cropping up over and over in our lives, and we have yet to gain complete victory over them. A question arose over the seasons of victory a believer does have in his or her life. Since they did not last, were they just a result of man-driven will power? We do want to do everything in the power of the Spirit, so we must avoid trying to do anything on our own, right? But once I began to look at scripture regarding this, I saw exactly what the pastor was talking about. God’s promises often undergird our obedience, and we must have a measure of resolve to obey.

Here are some examples of such commands: Romans 6:12-14 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. I Corinthians 15:34 Awake to righteousness and do not sin. Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. 1 Peter 1: 13-16 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

These are all direct commands. But you may say, “Wait a second. Now it’s about works and what I do, not what God does!” But where does your desire to obey God’s commands come from? It comes from HIM! In Romans 3, Paul quotes the Psalms to describe the natural state of man. He says: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit.” But upon conversion, a change takes place. God says of the new Christian: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them.” – Hebrews 10:16.

So the desire to obey God; the desire to do as He commands; the desire to be resolved to rid ourselves of our besetting sin is a God given grace. If He has given you a new heart that now desires after His righteousness, but you have not yet been perfected, then rejoice! This is in His plan! Your desire to obey and your struggle are signs He is working in your life. It is all a gift from Him. Come to Him in obedience and see His promises start to work in your life.

Hebrews 12


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Indefinable Holiness of God

By S. Michael Durham

Sunday, I started a new sermon series on the holiness of God. God is holy: a simple fact, but not so simple to understand.

Holiness is a perplexing subject for many reasons. Namely, God is indefinable. To define God, you must define holy, and to define holiness is to define God. You’re back where you started – confused – only in addition you now have a headache trying to understand my last sentence.

Holiness is the essence of who God is. Even His attributes cannot be described without the adjective holy. His love is holy; His justice is holy; His wisdom is holy, etc. Do you see the predicament?

In next Sunday’s message (November 30), I will go where angels literally fear to tread. I will try to peer into holiness itself and gain some idea of what the word holy means.

One of the things that stand in the way of our getting an intellectual grip on the word holy is how we use the word in so many different ways. Men call the pope “holy father” (I know the title is supposed to be capitalized, but I just can’t bring myself to do it). The Dalai Lama is called a holy man. And then there is the famous Harry Caray expression, “holy cow!” Some say “holy Toledo!” originated as a sarcastic expression resulting from the high proportion of bars to churches in Toledo, Ohio, in the pre-World War I period (it was a standing joke that you could walk out of a church on one corner and enter a bar at the next). So, from religious leaders to sarcastic expressions, the word holy is used, misused, and abused.

I’m sure that Isaiah the prophet could not have given a very exact theological definition for holiness. But he saw it – he writes of what he saw: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). He saw holiness because he saw God. Yet after seeing holiness, he was still unable to define it.

But there was one thing he could define: he could define what wasn’t holy. His definition of the unholy started with himself. “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips.” Sin became obvious. It was no longer blurred by good intentions. It wasn’t buried under excuses and rationalizations. Sin becomes easily recognized when you see God.

So whether you can define holiness or not, and the safe assumption is that you can’t, it is important to know what isn’t holy. To know what isn’t holy requires an acquaintance with who is.

Surely, understanding the Holy is a quest that will always remain incomplete. However, all that can be known of the Holy defines everything else. Even if we cannot understand Him altogether, what we do know will give understanding to all else.

Monday, November 24, 2008

And They Walked With Him No More

One of the most amazing scenes in the New Testament occurs when Jesus, who had gathered many followers, lost all of them but twelve. Scores of people followed Christ, but they followed Him for what they could get out of it. Christ fed four thousand, and then He fed five thousand. He healed and restored the lame and diseased to perfect health. It is no wonder many followed to see what He would do next or find out what He would give them. But when the teaching got tough, they vanished.

In John 6, they ask Him, “What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” In other words, they sought after the providence of God, and not God Himself. He had previously rebuked them by saying, “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” They wanted Christ to prove Himself by performing as God performed toward their ancestors in the desert. Jesus replies, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord give us this bread always.” But Christ knew they still did not understand. They did not know that he was speaking metaphorically. He said, “I AM the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Then, he laid it out for them. “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe." Jesus was the bread of life! They could not see. He went on to say, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. . . This is the bread which came down from heaven – not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus popped their proverbial bubble. And John says, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

I can almost picture the scene in my mind. The conversation between Jesus and crowd was over. Stunned and dismayed, the crowd stared at Him in disbelief. Murmuring began, they slowly backed away, and left. The complaining and conversation picked up as they all turned away. In just a matter of moments, the only ones remaining were Christ and His twelve disciples. An unusual silence hung in the air as the wind wisped across the ground, pushing the dust up into tiny whirlwinds. Then the Lord broke the silence. “Do you also want to go away?” And Peter stepped forward with the only answer he could muster. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also, we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter said something profound. In effect, he says, “What else can we do? Where shall we go? We have seen a revelation of the holiness of God, and to go back to what we were before is impossible! It has changed us! It has revealed who we are in the sight of God, and our lives without you are worthless and wasted!”

We see this very idea in Peter’s life when Christ calls him to be a disciple. After an unproductive night fishing, Jesus tells him to launch out into the deep and lower their nets. Peter obliges, and the nets break and the boats nearly sink with the number of fish they catch. Peter, when he realizes whom he is in the presence of, falls to his knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Peter caught a sight of His holiness, which only shed light on his depravity. Such a revelation of God leaves a man changed forever. It leaves him with an acute awareness of his depravity and inability to stand near the searing, white-hot holiness of One who is not like us. A revelation of His holiness puts all into proper perspective. But Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid.” Christ had not come to destroy him but to save him. So it was right for Peter to say, “to whom shall we go?” The light of God exposed and changed his sight forever. He could never view himself the same again. If we too are to see ourselves properly, then God must reveal the same to us. May He do so even more. “. . . for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” May the penetrating holiness of God remain etched upon my being forever so that I too say, “Lord, to whom shall I go?”


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Revival is Not the Word Part 2

by S. Michael Durham

Revival. The word falls so easily from the lips. It’s a common refrain in Christian circles. There are books, classes, seminars and conferences about revival. But I think many who let the word revival so easily roll off their tongue are unknowingly confused about its meaning. They anticipate a mighty move of God that will take them to a type of Christianity that Paul and Peter lived because they see Paul and Peter living far above the doldrums of normal Christianity. They plan and pray for a revival that will elevate them to spiritual altitudes they have not yet soared.

Some other good folk who desire revival see it as a once in a century or so experience. It is a supernatural phenomenon completely; Christianity at its highest this side of heaven. They read of great historical revivals that have places and dates for names: the Canadian Revival of 1971, the 1949-53 Hebrides Revival, the 1904 Welsh Revival, the 1859 Prayer Revival to name a few.

If we are speaking about corporate revivals, as I discussed in my last blog, then I would agree. These great moves of God where hundreds and thousands are swept into the kingdom are truly acts of God’s power and cannot be manipulated. It was said that during the 1904-05 Welsh revival that 100,000 people were converted in the course of a year. Nothing more can be said of this kind of revival then what doctor Luke said of the early church, “and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). It wasn’t grace, but great grace, extraordinary grace.

Nevertheless, I think both of these views of revival are mistaken for the same reason. Both views agree that revival or recovery is needed because they think Christians are living beneath the power and privilege of Christianity. They see revival as restoring the glory of Christianity to churches, Christians and country.

But, as earlier stated, the kind of revival most people are talking about does not restore normal Christianity—it exceeds it. The kind of revival that changes the masses is a “great grace.” They are not ordinary or representative of normal Christianity. They are seasons of special outpourings that remain in the Father’s hands and wisdom to give. They cannot be programmed or calculated. This kind of revival is a manifestation of the glory of Christ in a most unusual way.

But another mistake often made by the revival talkers is to equate the deplorable state of American Christianity as normal Christianity. They speak of weakness, ineptness and powerlessness as being typical of the Christian in a non-revived state. And without revival the believer cannot hope for better. But I beg to differ. There is nothing normal about a lack of holiness, little fruitfulness, or lukewarmness. Jesus said of the lukewarm that He would spew them out of His mouth. Tell me—what is normal about that? I hope that’s not normal.

Am I saying that a Christian can’t be lukewarm, that he can’t show signs of little love, little zeal or little holiness? No, not at all! I’m only stating that such signs are not evidences of normal Christianity. Jesus said that He came so that we could have not abundant living, but more abundant living. That is the normal Christian life—more abundant. A healthy person is considered normal. Why is it that we consider spiritual ill-health normal? Is it because we want to pass the buck of responsibility to another? Isn’t it quite easy to make the absence of revival the problem rather than confessing that your problem is sin?

A lot of revival talk today is a pseudo-spiritual way to excuse a lot of sin. “I know I’m not where I need to be. I need revival. So please pray that God will revive me.” Sound familiar? There’s no argument that a Christian whose love for Christ is small, as is his fruit, needs recovery. He is in need of revival. But this kind of revival, personal revival, has not been put on the shelf of God’s sovereignty out of our reach. Oh, no. He’s put it on a shelf well within our human responsibility. It’s called repentance. The true Christian need not pray, “Lord revive me” until he has first prayed “Lord, I repent. This is God’s method to personal revival—repentance. Revival is not the right word. Repentance is the word.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place——unless you repent (Revelation 2:5).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Revival is Not the Word Part 1

by S. Michael Durham

If you watch some Christian TV, you may be persuaded that revival is coming. For several years self-appointed prophets have been announcing, “This is the year of the greatest revival in history!” Sooner or later, if they keep announcing it, maybe they’ll get it right. Some, I’ve noticed, have given up on 2008 being the year. Now they are claiming that the revival is coming in 2009. I suppose they don’t think God can bring a revival with only 50 days left in the present year.

Revival is a word that can conjure up certain feelings. It’s often used to motivate saints to do better or heap upon them much guilt: “You backslidden people—you need revival!” And so the preacher hammers away on his theme of revival. It is the hope of most, the prayer of many, and the longing of churches and churchmen.

But what is revival? One answers, “It is a great move of God’s Spirit manifested by an upswing in the miraculous.” Another responds, “Revival is when Christians are revitalized from sin unto sanctification.” While someone else answers, “Revival is an unusual work of God that ushers thousands of souls into the kingdom.” Yet another says, “Revival is a special protracted meeting with an evangelist.”

As you can see the word revival either wears many hats or a great many people don’t know what they are talking about. I think it’s probably a little of both. Many don’t know what they’re talking about and, while revival doesn’t really wear many hats, it does have varying degrees. There are different kinds of revival.

It’s only in the Old Testament that you find the word revival. It is translated from a Hebrew word that means to live, to quicken, or to recover. But even though the English word revival is not in our New Testament, the idea is prevalent throughout it. The Greek Old Testament word for revival is the root of the word quicken in Ephesians 2:5, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” The concept is to make alive, which is the meaning of the Old Testament word, revival. So even though the word is not translated revival in English New Testaments, it’s there nonetheless. It’s just used differently.

Old Testament Scriptures give us several different kinds of revival or recovery. First, there is a corporate national revival. In Ezra 9:8, the priest Ezra prays "And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.” The measure of revival that he is speaking of is the return from Babylonian exile. Jerusalem had lain in ruins but new life returned to the home land with the rebuilt city walls. This revival was not necessarily spiritual but rather a recovery of the people from bondage.

Second, there is a corporate spiritual revival. The Psalmist cried out after the return to Israel from the Babylonian captivity, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalms 85:6). The prayer was for God to recover their spiritual prosperity. There had been a day when the people of God delighted in Him. Their joy had taken flight. It eluded them. His prayer was for a recovery of joy.

Also, sometimes during a corporate spiritual revival is the phenomenon most often associated with revival, the ingathering of an extraordinary number of souls. Often historic revivals have seen a harvest of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people in a relatively short span of time. This is illustrated in Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones. What should have been a barren wasteland was covered by sun-bleached bones. But God showed Ezekiel what was seemingly gone forever could be restored. The command of life went forth. The bones came together, breath was granted, and an army was made. It was a revival of physical life typifying the revival of spiritual life that God brings to those dead in sin.

Third, there is also a personal revival. David prays for personal revival in Psalms 143:11, “Revive me, O LORD, for Your name’s sake! For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.” Can’t you hear David’s spiritual privation and hunger earlier in the psalm?

. . . My spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is distressed. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands. I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah Answer me speedily, O LORD; My spirit fails! Do not hide Your face from me, Lest I be like those who go down into the pit. Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You (Psalm 143:4-8).

There are times in the believer’s journey that He does not sense the presence of God. His enemies (hell and its cohorts) have planned their attack and have executed with fierce rage. The pilgrim becomes weary with the struggle. His heart faints. His song of praise is replaced with the dirge of sorrow. He needs the grace of recovery. He needs reviving.

These are the different kinds of revival, and of course, they come in varying degrees. In our next post, I will discuss misconceptions about revival and what must occur before you or your church can experience any kind of revival.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

When Redundancy is Necessary

by S. Michael Durham

Real truth sounds redundant. Truth is real. And truth can’t be anything but real, can it? No, of course not, unless you manufacture your own truth. And even though manufactured truth isn’t real, you may think and assert that it is. Sadly, this has become the norm at this point in human history. We find ourselves living in an environment where facts are bothersome. Nuance is popular, and rigid truth is cumbersome. This generation thinks truth restricts freedom—freedom of expression and freedom to do your own thing even if it’s wrong. So the answer for modern culture is to cast off absolute and real truth and replace it with convenient truth. But “convenient truth” is an oxymoron—truth isn’t always convenient because it is not always lenient. It does not approve of every motive or action. It neither winks at indiscretion nor turns a deaf ear to injustice. Truth screams, “Foul!” to everything that is foul. It will not weigh the end and justify the means. The desire of an evil heart will not be approved by real truth.

So society has a choice: it can either conform to real truth or reject truth altogether. But men are not naturally anarchists. An anarchist is a person who advocates the overthrow of law. The option to remove law altogether is not logical to a society, thus society makes a third option when there really isn’t a third. It’s like Wile E. Coyote making a door out of thin air and opening the door and walking through it. The God-created moral fabric of a man knows that law and truth must exist, and since he will not have God’s truth, man creates his own version of it. His manufactured truth will be convenient for him. It will promote his interests regardless of consequences.

Recently I was talking with a young man who was a typical post-modernist who told me that we create our own perceptions of reality and truth. I asked him if he took a flame of fire and held it to his hand would he feel pain. He said, “Not unless I chose to feel pain. I create my own perception of suffering.” I then asked him if his bank statement showed an error of several thousand dollars in the bank’s favor what he would do. He replied that he would take his bank statements and records and prove the bank was wrong. I then asked him, “But if there is no absolute truth, and we can create our own perceptions of truth, what would you say to the banker if he said, ‘That’s your perception of truth and this is ours’?” The young man looked at me with disdain and got up and stormed off. He suddenly realized that there are times for absolute truth and he had no argument against it.

Many are advocating a gospel that is supposedly real and will really save. But it isn’t the Gospel of Christ or His apostles. Because of this, we deem it necessary to use a redundancy to describe who we are and what we are about. For years the media ministry of Oak Grove Baptist Church was called Living Priorities. But in the last year we have increasingly felt the need to rethink the name and find something to counteract our times and its false gospels, and definitively say this is what we are about. And of course, the Real Truth is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ.

We hope you like the new name and look of our website. We now have the ability to archive all sermons and resources for your availability. We have also added an easy-to-use online store to purchase any hard copy of the resources you will find on the site. All downloadable products will remain free of charge. We want to make available to you real truth because—real truth matters.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Can Persecution Be Far Behind?

We’ve heard it for years now. Persecution of Christians is coming to the United States! And while the evidences of hostility toward Christians have certainly grown in our recent history, it always evaded my mind how hostility from a “minority of people” could turn into full blown persecution. Plus, aren’t we guaranteed freedom of religion in a nation founded on religious principles? No matter the hatred toward Christians, we could not be outright persecuted, could we?

It did seem ludicrous to me in years past, but I am now coming to understand how it is possible and how it could actually play out in our nation. This is not prophecy in the sense of telling of future events, but the reality of persecution is now more real to me than ever.

So how can we go from a majority Christian nation to outright persecution? Perhaps the story about Christians backing Barack Obama on One News Now will help illustrate. The story states that in a recent Barna survey, Obama and McCain are tied when it comes to how born-again believers intend to vote. Barna defines born-again as those “who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus and believe they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.” How can that be? How can half of “born-again” Christians support a candidate who openly supports abortion (and even voted against a bill that would require babies born alive in botched abortions to receive medical treatment) and openly supports homosexual rights? Hard lines are being drawn, and in those lines are the future of persecuted believers.

I believe the chink in our previously impervious amour is the seeming divisions in the Christian world such as what we see above. There seems to be two or more Christian worlds within American Christianity. And the poles continue to drift further apart. Those who adhere to Biblical values, such as those of us who know abortion and homosexuality are wrong, are vilified as the most radical element of our faith. We have people like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Rob Bell in the Christian community who never raise anyone’s ire, yet there are those like James Dobson, John MacArthur, and Al Mohler who never seem to stop catching the flack of open, verbal persecution. So what is the difference? Aren’t we all Christians? This is why I used the term “seeming divisions” when referring to the Christian world. There are no divisions in true Christianity. The real division is between those who are converted and those who are not. The lines are being drawn between those who are His and those who claim to be His but are not.

And those who are truly saved are deemed as radical and dangerous. Now we can see how a nation can persecute Christians while still allowing ‘Christianity.’ Those who are truly born-again must draw the dividing line between themselves and those who are false converts. It is essential not for the sake of causing division, but for the sake of the Gospel. Yet the world will love those who claim to be the Church but in reality are not. The world will hold them up as true models of Christians and persecute those who really are. The false church is already in bed with the world and pleases it immensely. Therefore the true Church will be persecuted by a people who feel that this radical group is a danger to the state and to the state’s wellbeing. After all, the mantra for abortionists and homosexuals is one of civil rights, correct? Can you already see it coming? Bible publishers are being sued for printing scripture that decries homosexuality. Hate crime laws ban speech that agrees with scripture and Biblical teaching. The false church will flourish, and Christianity will still be accepted. . . as long as it agrees with the world and the state. This is the case currently in China.

And we will be the enemy. We will be those who oppose societal advancement. We will be persecuted. But the bright spot is that we have Christ. And He is worth it. Our treasure is not in comfort or ease. . . our treasure is in Him. And there is no difference to gain Him through ease or adversity. And persecution holds to scripture, so we should not be surprised. In fact, we can be comforted that He has told us these things before hand, and therefore His word is true.

–John 16:33 “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” - John 15:8 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” -John 16:2 “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” 2 Timothy 3:1-9 “1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”

Read about our brothers and sisters who are already facing violent persecution at persecution.com


Sunday, October 19, 2008

When God Wants to Drill a Man

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He's about

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why am I a Christian?

God help me. I have seen a glimpse of God. I have seen a slice of who God is, and His holiness overshadows me. If I turn from the view of the righteousness of God and back to myself, I look ugly. I did not look so bad, at one time. I seemed pretty good. Yet God's light so shined upon my soul and my fallen humanity that my flesh recoiled and shrunk in its presence. My skin clung to the dust of the earth. Every wrinkle, every spot, every blemish burst forth in all its hideousness. Even if the light of God be removed, the view of my flesh and sinfulness remain. The light of God exposed and changed my sight forever. I can never view myself the same again. The memory of the penetrating holiness of God and the repugnancy of myself remain etched upon my being forever.

To be a Christian is to be in the only form that God finds acceptable. It is for me to put on Christ. Only through Christ are the blemishes destroyed. Only through Christ are the stains removed. Only through Christ am I made clean. To live my life now after such a revelation is in, all reality, a waste. There is no need to press forward in my flesh. It is too disturbing to even imagine. It is too ugly to comprehend. But to move forward in Christ. . . my flesh crucified so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives through me. . . is to let my life be lived by the Spirit of God. It is is a life worth living so that others can see His glory. I know what it means for Him to be made perfect in my imperfection. The world can see Him and His glory and His power in a life yielded to Him. He can take the death, the failure, the enmity against Him, and transform it until He gains the glory for His own good pleasure.

God help me.



Well, here we are. . . post conference syndrome. Actually, this is the first time any of us has been involved in such a ministry, so we did not know what to expect before or after. I believe God has grown us all, but I have a feeling that we are in a position now of possible testing.

We've already heard some stories of how God worked through the conference. The conference caused more than one to examine themselves, and, as a result, God may be moving upon their hearts toward conversion. For others who were serving in ministry, they were strengthened and encouraged beyond anything we could have imagined. Many have a desire for this ministry to move forward.

But, in all honesty, I feel as lost about what to do as the day we began. I believe we are being tested. Will we trust God and wait upon Him? Were we doing that to begin with? Were we filling our lives with ministry instead of Him? I personally have felt a spirit of dryness, for a lack of better terms, for the past couple of weeks. I trust my Father no matter my emotions, but it does tend to wear on one's soul to not feel him. I continue to pursue His truth and am asking Him to let it lead my heart. I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded, that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day.

I believe all of us feel so inadequate to do any of this. Yet it becomes like a fire in the bones that we cannot keep shut in. God will supply. In my case, He MUST supply. Otherwise, what I do will be pretty pathetic.

Please pray for Real Truth Matters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

From For Your Joy by John Piper:

God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:25

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Galatians 3:13

If God were not just, there would be no demand for his Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for his Son to suffer and die. But God is just and loving. Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of his justice.

His law demanded, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). But we have all loved other things more. This is what sin is--dishonoring God by preferring other things over him, and acting on those preferences. Therefore, the Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We glorify what we enjoy most. And it isn't God.

Therefore sin is not small, because it is not against a small Sovereign. The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The Creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect and admiration and loyalty. Therefore, failure to love him is not trivial--it is treason. It defames God and destroys human happiness.

Since God is just, he does not sweep these crimes under the rug of the universe. He feels a holy wrath against them. They deserve to be punished, and he has made this clear: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).

There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. Not to punish would be unjust. The demeaning of God would be upheld. A lie would reign at the core of reality. Therefore, God says, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them" (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26).

But the love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath, no matter how holy it is. Therefore he sends his own Son to absorb his wrath and bear the curse for all who trust him. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13).

This is the meaning of the word "propitiation" in the texts quoted above. It refers to the removal of God's wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; he absorbs it and diverts it from us to himself. God's wrath is just and it was spent, not withdrawn.

Let us not trifle with God or trivialize his love. We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of his wrath against us. But when, by grace, we waken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the [wrath-absorbing] propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4: 10).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Texas Style Christianity

What about us makes us want things bigger and better in everything we do? Pride? Perhaps. It is our nature. We do this with every undertaking, especially in America. Look at food portions in restaurants, the size of our grocery stores, and even at our religious landscape. We want to do things on a grand scale. But does that creep over into our mentality as Christians?

Yes, it does! God has called us to make disciples and to tell the nations about the Gospel of Christ. But even as Christians, we can buy into the mentality of doing it bigger and better than the next guy. We want to see scores saved, churches packed, and widespread repentance. Are these bad things? No. But we often fall into the trap of wanting to see the results instead of a pleased Father.
What makes it difficult is that we see so many "results" around us. Just in our local community, we have huge churches that are getting bigger, and new mega churches that seemed to spring up overnight. It is hard not to think fleshly and just wonder what they are doing right. But the secret behind it is that the gospel to them is nothing more than a product to peddle in order to get someone "in." And pastors and staff are gathering large groups of unregenerate, unconverted people together and calling it church. There may be signs of life and success on the outside, but they are full of deceived people on the inside.

But this certainly explains alot for me. Ever notice how most preachers resemble your idea of a used car salesman? They have the slicked up moussed hair, the fake smile, the please-them-all attitude. Why? Because they were hired to get results. They were hired to make this place grow and convince people they need to be here.

No one jumps into anything wanting to be a failure. But if your aim is to please your Heavenly Father, you will by no means fail. You may say, "Well, if we do the things God told us, success will naturally come. God told us how to be successful!" Not necessarily. Noah only took his family upon the ark. He had no other converts. Jeremiah spent time in prison for preaching against the sins of his people and telling of forthcoming doom. But they did not listen. Jesus gathered a huge following, but lost them all but eleven by the time of his death.

Let us not be tempted to do big things for God. The biggest thing we can do is become humble, submissive, and simply content to not look within, but look to please Him.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Feeling Sin

Have you ever had a dream so wrought with intense emotion that you awoke to feeling that emotion as much as you did when you were asleep? I had such a dream last night. The end of the dream was intense with terror and panic. . . so much so that I woke up suddenly, and it took a good hour before those feelings subsided. But in that hour, I wondered why I did not have such intense feelings toward the enemy of sin. I do hate my sin. I do loathe its awful renderings in my life. But the mere thought of committing sin does not induce within me the feelings of terror that were associated with my dream.

Could it be that I do not see sin as dangerous as it really is? As a Christian, I see sin as something detestable, but do I really feel and know that to my core? Perhaps sin is still to much a part of who I am to be truly alien to me and cause me to revile it so. But does sin have this effect on any man? It has had that effect on at least one man. Before Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, he met with much agony at Gethsemane. In Matthew 26, it says he was sorrowful and deeply distressed and he told his disciples that his "soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death." In Luke 22 it says his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. And he cried out to the father, "if it is your will, take this cup away from me." The torment was great. The terror was real. But why was Christ, the one who had remained steadfast and bold in the face of opposition, now seemingly to recoil in fear? It was the cup. The cup of God's wrath and righteous judgement. It was a judgement against sin.

Unlike any other man, Christ had not known sin. He did know know what it meant to have sin coursing through the veins from birth. He did not know what separation from the Father meant because of sin. He was not ruled by sin or the flesh but ruled by the will of God. Yet, in a little while, he would become sin and be an enemy of God. It was something he had never known, and the terror struck him with the fierceness of all of hell. Yet he remained faithful.

Oh, may I not become friends with sin. May I not make treaties and become complacent and accustomed to its presence. May even the thought of sin. . . mutiny against a Holy God. . . strike terror within my heart. May it become as loathsome as a festering boil and as terrifying as the flames of hell.


Monday, September 8, 2008

The Overwhelming Love of God

Is God's love overwhelming to you? It is not possible until you see your overwhelming burden of sin. And that is not possible until you see the overwhelming holiness of God. Yet his holiness condescended to us to take on the form of flesh. And his flesh condescended to take on our sin. But he did not just bear the burden of sin. He became as sin. 2 Corinthians 5:17 - "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." He BECAME OUR sin by imputation. And once that transaction occurred, God poured his wrath and his righteous anger against that sin upon him. Can you fathom the wrath of our Holy God against what he hates: sin? And then imagine that cup being poured out upon you. Yet through this act, his righteousness was imputed to us who are born again so we can be found spotless in his sight. Oh what a glorious thought!

At times this love swells the heart to beyond its capacity. The love of God becomes as an encompassing weight that seems poised to crush to us if he did not restrain his hand. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be. How marvelous! How wonderful is my savior's love for me! May we all know the experiencing of his love today.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Medium is the Message - Part Two

So if the way we communicate messages has a bearing on the meaning of those messages, what does that say about how we communicate the gospel? Many have taken the view that since people in America are entrenched in sports, television, and movies that we must use those languages to communicate the gospel of Christ. But ultimately, what does it do to the message? If McLuhan was right, it changes the gospel into entertainment. . . it changes it into mere fun. . . it distorts the seriousness of it. And, in recent years, the gospel has become an obligatory tack-on to entertainment. And because attention spans are short, people are apologized to when gospel presenters say, "This will only take a few minutes."

And what does it say about the message we have to communicate? By trying to smash it in to a context that would appeal to depraved minds, we are stating that there is a lack of power in what we have to say, and it has to be modified in order to be effective. I recently heard John MacArthur say something profound about our gospel. It is a transcendent message. It is a singular message. The message of the church transcends all languages, all nations, all cultures, all societal norms, all contexts, all levels of education, and all notions about status. The early church had the same message everywhere it went in a day when cultural boundaries were harder and more fixed than we see today. Acts 1:8 - "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Did Christ say witnesses to Me by the power of your cunning in crafting the message? No. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit.

All that is needed for the power of God to be released in a situation, such as in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, is that the Truth of God be proclaimed. Three thousand souls were added that day BY GOD, not by the context of the message. Why would you change the message when the Word says that the natural man understands not the things of God? Contextualization of the message is a curse. As MacArthur says, "We have people fussing around trying to figure out if they need holes in their Levis and a skull and crossbones on their t-shirts, as if that is a means for drawing in God's elect. The message never descends to clothing or musical styles. Can your message go to any person? Anyone in your town, state, country, and around the world?"

Let me tell you about the practicality of this. In sharing the gospel with people, I have used the same message with every age group, every race, and each gender. And they all understand! Do they all receive it? No. But the Word says that the message is veiled to those who are perishing. And if it is veiled and cannot be understood by the human mind without the power of God, then how am I going to try and trump that by making it "cool." I recently saw an evangelist present the gospel message to a group of teens. The message was the same as what he would have told a man who was 90 years old. And the message was effective! God brought a certain amount of conviction upon those kids. Why do we feel that we must spend thousands of dollars, generate a great deal of research, and distort the message when all they need is the gospel!

I may sound out of touch with society, but I am in good company. Look at the prophets. Look at John the Baptist (who was probably more out of touch with society than anyone) and the Apostle Paul. For that matter, look at Jesus. He did not fit in with his society, nor did he use their depraved desires to pull them in. We must not use people's desires for the things of the world to draw them to the gospel. These things are innate to their falleness.

The true Gospel is alien to us. Men are naturally prideful. The Gospel smashes that pride. Men proclaim their goodness. The Gospel smashes their idea of what good is. And the Gospel is the power to save. It is not of man, but of God. We therefore, do not need to take what is of God and make if man.

I will end with what is probably the scariest part of all of this. If the medium taints the message, then in all reality, it changes the message. Parts of it may sound the same, but the message is changed. In Galatians 1:9, Paul says, "As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed." Let us not be in that position. Preach the Word! Be prepared in season and out of season!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Medium is the Message - Part One

In the early 1960's, Marshall McLuhan postulated his now famous theory of media, that the medium is the message. This means, in its most simplified form, that messages we convey to each other as human beings are tainted and shaped by the medium by which we choose to communicate them. For example, a news event that is reported on television, the newspaper, and an Internet blog will all be somewhat different. Television is a medium where brevity is key, so the message is shaped accordingly. Newspapers have limited space, but they are a little more free to expound on facts than television. An Internet blog is virtually limitless in space and storage, thus much more information can be contained. In this, the medium of communication helps to shape the message delivered. We can perceive some messages as being more important than others, or more facts or less facts give us an impression of what is truly going on. This is where we get terms such as "soundbite culture." Let me give you one visual example. Look at the following ways of conveying a message through different fonts:

As you can see, if I were conveying a message about a person named Jenny, I could give you different ideas about who Jenny is simply by my medium choice. The message is exactly the same (J-E-N-N-Y), but the medium shapes the way you perceive the message.

In more recent times, television and the Internet are shaping our way of thinking simply because they are the predominant media of our day. One result of television viewing is shortened attention spans. For example, a typical television show will change the image you see every three seconds, on average. You are moved from one shot to the next in rapid succession in order to keep your attention. Watch a television show from the medium's early days. Better yet, place a child in front of an old TV show, and watch the temptation of boredom set in. You will notice things move at a much slower pace, and the shots and images are not changed as often.

So, in the end, messages can be enhanced, obscured, or obsolesced simply by the form of communication we use to transmit that message.

So, what does this mean on a Christian blog? You will have to tune in to part two to find out! But until then, think about how the Christian community transmits the Gospel of Christ. We hold good news! And that good news must be communicated with others. How do we do that? How is that done in America now?

. . . to be continued.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Upcoming article about the RTM conference

Paducah Parenting Magazine will graciously run an article regarding the conference in their September issue. Below is the article as it has been submitted to them:

Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography, “In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.” His words could not be more apropos than now.

In a time when many are embracing post-modernist philosophies (what is true for you and what is true for me may be complete opposites, yet they are both valid), the questioning of beliefs passed down from generation to generation are coming under close scrutiny. And perhaps none is more closely eyed than those pertaining to religion. Yet if what Mark Twain writes is true, should we not question the ideals and beliefs passed on to us? Are the beliefs and traditions we grew up with accurate? Such is the subject of the Real Truth Matters conference coming to Paducah on October 11th at the Robert Cherry Civic Center.

The Real Truth Matters conference will take an in depth look at the crux of Christian belief. . . the Gospel. Without it, there would be no Christianity. But the question has arrived: Is what we are doing today in Churches across the United States in line with the Bible, or are we just passing on traditions that in the end, mean nothing? “The question has been raised quite well by those in the emergent church,” says conference speaker Michael Durham. “But in the end, their post-modern ideas do not lead them to a logical solution. On the other end, we have Christians who claim to stand on Biblical truth in their doctrine, but they will do anything and everything to get someone into Christianity, even if it means compromising the Gospel. Others agree that many of the traditions of our forefathers are not good, but they set out to create new, equally dangerous traditions. One of the purposes of this conference is to start a dialog among Christians in our area. In an age where Christians are increasingly under attack for the faith, and persecution is on the rise, we have to make sure we get the Gospel right. It is the bedrock of our faith, and we have to keep it true.”

And the fight is not a new one. Even before the last word was penned on the book of Revelation, deceivers had already crept into the early church. “False prophets existed in the Old Testament,” says Michael. “There always seems to be a work of deception working along side any work of God. That is exactly the problem we find in the Garden of Eden. Jesus warned about them from the sermon on the mount to his discourse just before his death. Paul encountered false teachings as well as Peter and John. The book of Jude is a direct warning against such. Jude encourages believers “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” because deceivers had crept in unnoticed. The key word is 'unnoticed.' We often think that deception will be easy to spot. But that is the very essence of deception. It is, by nature, not always easy to spot. It will often take on many forms of truth. . . dress itself up in God's word and be nearly accurate. But any errancy in the gospel renders it useless. It's like putting a drop of extremely toxic poison in a gallon of water. Not many would take the chance on drinking that water once they know what is in there.”

And even though deception is often masked under the cloak of truth, the results of it are unmistakable. In 1991, the first year of the decade of harvest, a major denomination in the U.S. was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. That is, in one year, this major denomination of 11,500 churches was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. Unfortunately, they could only find 14,000 in fellowship, which means they couldn’t account for 280,000 of their decisions. This is normal, modern evangelical results. And one of the greatest complaints against the Christian community is the fact that many who claim to be Christian are no different than those who do not claim any faith. Yet the scriptures describe a believer as “a new creation.” There is an obvious disconnect between our reality and that described in scripture.

“These are the topics we are going to tackle at the Real Truth Matters conference,” adds Michael. “We are going to look at where we have gotten it wrong, the essential elements of the gospel, and what true conversion really is. It will be a time for Christians to come together and learn the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once that power is realized, we have no more need of man-made traditions to entice or lure people into the kingdom of God.”

The Real Truth Matters conference will be held at the Robert Cherry Civic Center on Saturday, October 11 at 10am. More information and registration can be found at realtruthmatters.com.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

From the Cradle to the Grave

There's a group out there that wants to control you. They want to control your mind. . . your habits and your daily decisions from the time you are born until the time you die. Do I sound a little too "conspiracy theory" for you? No, "they" aren't hovering in UFOs far above the earth beaming mind control rays into our heads. "They" are the world as spoke of in scriptures. How does it work? Let me give you one example.

Are you familiar with Viacom? Viacom is one of the most prolific corporations the US has ever seen. Viacom manages to touch nearly every US citizen in one way or another multiple times throughout one's life. How? Through their ownership of media such as Nickelodeon, CMT, BET, MTV, VH1, SpikeTV, TVLand, Paramount, Dreamworks, and Atom Entertainment, just to name a few. Much of what you see in theaters and on your home television screen is produced by a Viacom subsidiary. And if you like entertainment, you can literally be theirs from the cradle to the grave.

As a toddler, you can soak in all the "educational" programs on Nick Jr., Nickelodeon's daytime programming. But in the afternoon, when the older kids are home from school, the programming changes. In later years, Nickelodeon has opted for more of an MTV format in the afternoons, offering older kids musical interludes by today's nearly-non-threatening pop acts and breaks by live announcers much akin to MTV VJs. You, as a young child or young adult are being groomed for the next step up in the Viacom world, MTV, BET or CMT. And the messages from the film division are backed up and promoted heavily on Viacom network stations. And each network grooms you for the next until all you can do is watch TVLand and remember the good old days.

So what's the problem? We are being lulled to sleep our whole lives. Your patterns of thinking, behavior, and purchasing are being influenced from multiple directions with a single source behind many of the messages. In an entertainment culture, it is easy to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. But before we know it, we realize we have been sedated. Our minds have been numbed until we reach the end of our lives, which have been shaped by what is temporary and fleeting.

But is Viacom some huge monster in a vast conspiracy to turn you into a drooling clone that answers to their beck and call? Perhaps. They are certainly looking for you to willfully surrender your pocketbook. But ultimately they are merely pawns picked from the toolbox of the world. Romans 12:2 says "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Conformity to this world is the opposite of what God wants. I also think of Matthew 16:26 where Jesus says "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" To gain a lifetime of fleeting entertainment to only find out that you've lost it all is tragic. But perhaps the most tragic example is in Jesus' parable of the four soils. In the parable, Christ uses the story of a seed sower to illustrate someone preaching the truth of the Gospel. . . God's word. And as the sower scatters his seed, some falls into thorny ground. Oh, the seed grows, but so do thorny vines. And the thorny vines eventually choke the life out of the tender plant from the seed. Christ explains the meaning this way: "Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful."

I pray that is not you, my friend. It is easy to fill our lives with "stuff," only to wake up at the end of our life's journey and wonder where it all went. Our lives are but vapors. . . here today and gone tomorrow. Paul says in Colossians 3 that if "you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." There we will find treasure that moth and rust cannot destroy. And the thief of time cannot take it away. There, we will find the treasure of Christ.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin

Charles Spurgeon-

1 John 1:7 - but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

“Cleanseth,” says the text—not “shall cleanse.” There are multitudes who think that as a dying hope they may look forward to pardon. Oh! how infinitely better to have cleansing now than to depend on the bare possibility of forgiveness when I come to die. Some imagine that a sense of pardon is an attainment only obtainable after many years of Christian experience. But forgiveness of sin is a present thing—a privilege for this day, a joy for this very hour. The moment a sinner trusts Jesus he is fully forgiven. The text, being written in the present tense, also indicates continuance; it was “cleanseth” yesterday, it is “cleanseth” today, it will be “cleanseth” tomorrow: it will be always so with you, Christian, until you cross the river; every hour you may come to this fountain, for it cleanseth still. Notice, likewise, the completeness of the cleansing, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin”—not only from sin, but “from all sin.” Reader, I cannot tell you the exceeding sweetness of this word, but I pray God the Holy Ghost to give you a taste of it. Manifold are our sins against God. Whether the bill be little or great, the same receipt can discharge one as the other. The blood of Jesus Christ is as blessed and divine a payment for the transgressions of blaspheming Peter as for the shortcomings of loving John; our iniquity is gone, all gone at once, and all gone forever. Blessed completeness! What a sweet theme to dwell upon as one gives himself to sleep.

“Sins against a holy God;
Sins against his righteous laws;
Sins against his love, his blood;
Sins against his name and cause;
Sins immense as is the sea-
From them all he cleanseth me.”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Depravity of Man - Up Close and Personal

If you do not believe in the total depravity of man - that man is inherently evil and born that way - I invite you to slow down and take a look around.

As evangelists who hit the streets and talk to people one on one, we are forced to slow down, take a thoughtful look at what is going on around us, and engage people in the truth of the Gospel. One of our favorite places to go is Paducah's Downtown After Dinner. If you want examples of depravity, you can find them here. Outside of the entertainment areas on Broadway, you can find large group of roaming kids, many dropped off and left unsupervised by their parents. Some are as young as twelve. In passing them by while walking around downtown, one can hear and see some pretty shocking things. We have seen many fights start, heard language that would make a hardened criminal blush, and seen clothing that was inappropriate both in it's content and lack of content. It boils down to depravity.

Just this past weekend two women around the age of twenty were brutally fighting on the sidewalk in front of the Quilt Museum. One had the other on the sidewalk and appeared to be trying to bash the girl's head into the concrete. The other had her teeth clenched down on the other girl. A group of people stood around just watching. Several people approached trying to break up the fight, but the crowd around them prevented them from doing so. Who was in the crowd? Both girls' parents. One woman said, "I ain't going to break it up, and you ain't either. The girl on the bottom is my daughter, and if she can't take it, she ain't worth it!" Depravity.

But even on Broadway, in the middle of the entertainment, is there depravity? Absolutely! Just ask yourself if all that takes place there is pleasing to God? Depravity is best understood when you see things from His perspective. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with entertainment, but you see people who live their lives without regard to God. They shun Him and go their own way. They care not for the one who gave them life and breath and sustains their very being every single day. They do not acknowledge Him. They are depraved.

If you are not yet convinced, I will give you one more example. Take a look at Myspace. Look at the profiles of people who live in your hometown. The Internet lets people feel more comfortable in expressing themselves in ways that they may not be able to in other public realms. And most of the time, it is not good. The language is fueled by cursings, sexuality, and everything a person puts out in the public eye that they use to communicate "this is who I am!" And, once again, take a look at it from God's perspective. Look at these things and ask, "Is this pleasing to God?"

So what about your own heart? Are you depraved in God's eyes? How do you match up to God's standard of what is acceptable or unacceptable to Him? You see, God demands perfection! You can ask yourself a few questions to see how you stack up. How many lies have you told in your life? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever looked at someone with lustful thoughts? Jesus said if you even look with lust, you have committed adultery already in your heart. Have you ever hated anyone? Hate in the heart is the same as murder to God. As you can see by facing just a few of the Ten Commandments, we fall woefully short. And these things are only a reflection of God's righteousness! Paul told us in Romans that we are ALL wicked in God's eyes. Read this passage from Romans and apply it to yourself. I have put it in first person to help: “ There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. I have turned aside; I have become unprofitable; I do no good. My throat is an open tomb; With my tongue I have practiced deceit. The poison of asps is under my lips. My mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. My feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in my ways; And the way of peace they I have not known. There is no fear of God before my eyes.” Now you may say, no, I have done some good! But remember, we have to see things from God's point of view. What may seem good to us is as nothing compared to the righteousness of God. Our best works are no better than excrement.

Paul says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So what are we to do? Without perfection, we do not enter in to the presence of God, and are destined to eternal destruction where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet in this, there is good news. Because while we were still sinners, Christ came to die for us. Christ is the expression of one who did not fall short of the glory of God. He is the glory of God! Christ lived a perfect life. Christ had not the depraved nature of you and I. And, when he hung on the cross, he took the wrath of God that you and I deserved. God poured out his anger against sin onto His only begotten son so that you and I could walk free. Our sin incurred a debt against God that we could never repay. That is why hell is eternal. But Christ stepped in and paid that debt once and for all. And he calls us to repent (turn away from our sin) and put our trust, our lives, and our all in His hands. Then, He says he takes out the heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. We begin to hate the sin we once loved and love the God we once hated. Without pure righteousness, we cannot enter into the presence of God and will enter into eternal punishment. But when we cry out to Him, he stoops down, picks us up, and gives us His righteousness.

Romans 3: 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Working FOR the glory of God?

I have heard it said that we are created to bring God glory. While it may be rightly so, we spend our Christian lives working for the glory of God. We do what we can for His glory. We pray for God to bless our toil to his honor. Yet if we are stillborn sinners, lifeless and dead in trespasses, taken from the womb of sin, what can our work accomplish for God’s benefit? If our existence is an affront to God’s holiness, how can the labor of our minds and hands bless Him? Yet even while we are dead and stinking in the grave, the life of Christ beats within the convert’s heart. God takes what is death and, through the propitiatory sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ, He lives His life through us. Our work is not just a means to the ends of glorifying God. Our death to sin, our death to self, our death to pride. . . allows Christ to work in and through us for his own glory. It is not simply doing what we can to repay Christ for His mercy. It is an utterly, and wholly death to self that allows Christ to take up our flesh for the working of His hands.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Are you an Apatheist?

While you read this, keep in mind it was written by a professed homosexual, atheistic, Jew:

Let It Be: Three Cheers for Apatheism
The Atlantic May 2003

IT came to me recently in a blinding vision that I am an apatheist. Well, "blinding vision" may be an overstatement. "Wine-induced haze" might be more strictly accurate. This was after a couple of glasses of merlot, when someone asked me about my religion. "Atheist," I was about to say, but I stopped myself. "I used to call myself an atheist," I said, "and I still don't believe in God, but the larger truth is that it has been years since I really cared one way or another. I'm" -- that was when it hit me -- "an ... apatheist!"

That got a chuckle, but the point was serious. Apatheism -- a disinclination to care all that much about one's own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people's -- may or may not be something new in the world, but its modern flowering, particularly in ostensibly pious America, is worth getting excited about.

Apatheism concerns not what you believe but how. In that respect it differs from the standard concepts used to describe religious views and people. Atheism, for instance, is not at all like apatheism; the hot-blooded atheist cares as much about religion as does the evangelical Christian, but in the opposite direction. "Secularism" can refer to a simple absence of devoutness, but it more accurately refers to an ACLU-style disapproval of any profession of religion in public life -- a disapproval that seems puritanical and quaint to apatheists. Tolerance is a magnificent concept, John Locke's inestimable gift to all mankind; but it assumes, as Locke did, that everyone brims with religious passions that everyone else must work hard to put up with.

And agnostics? True, most of them are apatheists, but most apatheists are not agnostics. Because -- and this is an essential point -- many apatheists are believers.

In America, as Thomas Byrne Edsall reported in these pages recently, the proportion of people who say they never go to church or synagogue has tripled since 1972, to 33 percent in 2000. Most of these people believe in God (professed atheists are very rare in the United States); they just don't care much about him. They do care a bit; but apatheism is an attitude, not a belief system, and the over-riding fact is that these people are relaxed about religion.

Even regular churchgoers can, and often do, rank quite high on the apatheism scale. There are a lot of reasons to attend religious services: to connect with a culture or a community, to socialize, to expose children to religion, to find the warming comfort of familiar ritual. The softer denominations in America are packed with apatheists. The apatheism of Reform Jews is so well known as to be a staple of synagogue humor. (Orthodox rabbi to Reform rabbi: "One of my congregants says his son wants a Harley for his bar mitzvah. What's a Harley?" Reform rabbi to Orthodox rabbi: "A Harley is a motorcycle. What's a bar mitzvah?")

Finally, and this may seem strangest of all, even true-believing godliness today often has an apatheistic flavor. I have Christian friends who organize their lives around an intense and personal relationship with God, but who betray no sign of caring that I am an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual. They are exponents, at least, of the second, more important part of apatheism: the part that doesn't mind what other people think about God.

I BELIEVE that the rise of apatheism is to be celebrated as nothing less than a major civilizational advance. Religion, as the events of September 11 and after have so brutally underscored, remains the most divisive and volatile of social forces. To be in the grip of religious zeal is the natural state of human beings, or at least of a great many human beings; that is how much of the species seems to be wired. Apatheism, therefore, should not be assumed to represent a lazy recumbency, like my collapse into a soft chair after a long day. Just the opposite: it is the product of a determined cultural effort to discipline the religious mindset, and often of an equally determined personal effort to master the spiritual passions. It is not a lapse. It is an achievement.

"A world of pragmatic atheists," the philosopher Richard Rorty once wrote, "would be a better, happier world than our present one." Perhaps. But best of all would be a world generously leavened with apatheists: people who feel at ease with religion even if they are irreligious; people who may themselves be members of religious communities, but who are neither controlled by godly passions nor concerned about the (nonviolent, noncoercive) religious beliefs of others. In my lifetime America has taken great strides in this direction, and its example will be a source of strength, not weakness, in a world still beset by fanatical religiosity (al Qaeda) and tyrannical secularism (China).

Ronald Reagan used to insist that he was religious even though, as President, he hardly ever entered a church. It turns out he was in good company. Those Americans who tell pollsters they worship faithfully? Many of them are lying. John G. Stackhouse Jr., a professor of theology and culture, wrote recently in American Outlook magazine, "Beginning in the 1990s, a series of sociological studies has shown that many more Americans tell pollsters that they attend church regularly than can be found in church when teams actually count." In fact, he says, actual churchgoing may be at little more than half the professed rate. A great many Americans, like their fortieth President, apparently care about religion enough to say they are religious, but not enough to go to church.

You can snicker at Reagan and the millions of others like him; you can call them hypocrites if you like. I say, God bless them, every one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

They Weave the Spider's Web

Charles Spurgeon-

“They weave the spider’s web.”
Isaiah 59:5
See the spider’s web, and behold in it a most suggestive picture of the hypocrite’s religion. It is meant to catch his prey: the spider fattens himself on flies, and the Pharisee has his reward. Foolish persons are easily entrapped by the loud professions of pretenders, and even the more judicious cannot always escape. Philip baptized Simon Magus, whose guileful declaration of faith was so soon exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter. Custom, reputation, praise, advancement, and other flies, are the small game which hypocrites take in their nets. A spider’s web is a marvel of skill: look at it and admire the cunning hunter’s wiles. Is not a deceiver’s religion equally wonderful? How does he make so barefaced a lie appear to be a truth? How can he make his tinsel answer so well the purpose of gold? A spider’s web comes all from the creature’s own bowels. The bee gathers her wax from flowers, the spider sucks no flowers, and yet she spins out her material to any length. Even so hypocrites find their trust and hope within themselves; their anchor was forged on their own anvil, and their cable twisted by their own hands. They lay their own foundation, and hew out the pillars of their own house, disdaining to be debtors to the sovereign grace of God. But a spider’s web is very frail. It is curiously wrought, but not enduringly manufactured. It is no match for the servant’s broom, or the traveller’s staff. The hypocrite needs no battery of Armstrongs to blow his hope to pieces, a mere puff of wind will do it. Hypocritical cobwebs will soon come down when the besom of destruction begins its purifying work. Which reminds us of one more thought, viz., that such cobwebs are not to be endured in the Lord’s house: he will see to it that they and those who spin them shall be destroyed for ever. O my soul, be thou resting on something better than a spider’s web. Be the Lord Jesus thine eternal hiding-place.