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The pastor is smiling at us from the cover of the full-color magazine. He’s a prominent man with a successful ministry, and I do not doubt that he is a sincere man of God. Making that judgment, outside of the knowledge of obvious sin, is not my job nor is it the job of any Christian. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). Nevertheless, I am compelled to question the article in which he is interviewed about his ministry. The title of this piece is “Growing the Urban Church.” Growing the church. May we pause to think about the veracity of the claim that we know how to grow a church? We have, unfortunately, become accustomed to this manner of speaking. There may be an evangelical pastor in the United States who has not attended a conference or read a book about church growth methods, but I doubt it. This is how we talk. This is how we think. I entered “How to grow a church” in the search field on Amazon and discovered there were a thousand books written on the topic. A search on Bing gave me over eighteen million hits.

Church growth is surely on almost every pastor’s mind.

However, we must face this truth. Men devising means by which to grow a church is not biblical.

After I saw the article title on the magazine cover, a scripture immediately came to mind. Paul had written to the church at Corinth. Disputes were rife in that fellowship about which influential leader one should attach oneself to. Peter? Apollos? Paul? Jesus? However, Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he and Apollos were merely servants who were just doing what servants do. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5–7). 1

He and Apollos are nothing, Paul wrote. Nothing. Not super apostles, not outstanding speakers, not church-growers. No, Paul said. He planted. Apollos watered. But neither of them made the church grow, any more than they could have made a plant grow. God alone can do that.

Do we believe this biblical reality?

The answer should be obvious: No, we do not.

That’s a problem. Evangelicals think that lack of church growth is the problem in the United States, and it’s hard to refute that reality as the U.S. culture continues to disintegrate into sinful rebellion. However, which is more important? Believing biblical truth or declining church attendance? Do we even know how to make a church grow? Are you sure? Have you ever read in the Book of Acts how the Lord made the Church grow? Not by human means, I can assure you. No, we don’t know how the Lord makes churches grow. We just think we do. In fact, we know more about how God makes plants grow than we do churches. However, regardless of how much we know about plant growth, we humans still can’t make a plant grow. How would a person do that? Step one. Plant seed. Step Two. Add water. Step Three: Um, make seed sprout.

Game over, as the saying goes.

So, here we are, unsurprisingly, looking at the front page of a full-color mag about church-growing and thus becoming “effective leaders,” and having “successful ministries.” Step One: Plant seed. Step Two: Add water. Step three. Um, do something else that we think makes sense.

While we are trying to find some light on this topic, another scripture comes to mind, in which Jesus made it very clear who will build the Church. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17–18).

Pardon me, but who will build the Church? You? The successful pastor on the magazine cover?

No. Jesus will build it. God will give the growth according to His will. These are two very clear truths about church growth which pastors and leaders don’t or can’t manage to embrace. Why can’t we understand this? These aren’t two obscure passages hiding out in an ambiguous statement spoken by one of Job’s counsellors. No, they’re right there in plain sight, in plain language.

Why don’t we abide by them?

I encourage the reader to cogitate on that one.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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(Please note: I won’t be posting an article here until November 18.)

A persistent falsehood has run through the evangelical church for several years. It is that a believer must find his or her vision, a vision for life. This has, of course, inevitably, resulted in people in small groups (Gotta have ‘em, you know.) sitting around talking and “visioneering.” This is just alternative language for finding one’s purpose or dream via human reasoning. If you haven’t caught on by now, you should know that such activities are the same that businesses and corporations do to increase production or sales. In Christian leadership conferences, pastors are told they must “cast their vision” to the church. After all, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time,” as the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar famously said. All this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible. Well, it has nothing to do with the Bible unless one throws in this one verse from Proverbs—which we must do, of course, since we must be “preaching from the Scripture”—which is supposed to justify this useless visioneering activity: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).1

Prophetic vision. We all know where prophetic vision comes from, right? It comes from the Lord, by His sovereign will. We don’t receive prophetic vision by sitting around in small groups talking about our “visions,” so we can hit our growth targets in the church and goals in our Christian lives. No, this verse from Proverbs tells us that without a prophetic vision from God, people start sliding into lawlessness. A great example of this casting off restraint is what Israel did in the Book of Judges. Feel free to read those too-often dreadful accounts yourself, but within those pages we discover the terrible things that Israel did because they disobeyed God’s law. By the end of the book, the entire tribe of Benjamin is almost entirely wiped out—murdered by their own Israelite brothers. Then, realizing their senseless anger and folly, the remaining tribes attempted to solve the problem they had caused by kidnapping women from other tribes. Israel, at the time of these acts, had no God-inspired judge to lead them to obey the Lord. Thus, they cast off restraint. Those who lived in this lawless time obeyed the law and turned from sin were blessed because they kept the law, as Proverbs 29:18 says.

Which brings me back to the evangelical church in the United States, where prophetic and visionary voices have been silenced in favor of topical, how-to messages. The topic is set, verses are found to support the topic—as is the case to promote finding one’s vision—and the saints of God hear vapid, non-prophetic, non-visionary, non-challenging teachings. And thus, the people begin to cast off restraint. How, you may ask, have evangelical Christians begun to cast off restraint? Today, the evangelical church is under cultural pressure to cave to LGBTQ, gender, and racial agendas. For example, the recent leadership meeting of a well-known para-church campus ministry was basically a celebration of critical-race-theory wokeness. Am I hopeful the evangelical church will be strong enough to stand against this cultural onslaught? Not without biblical, prophetic voices. As I have written many times on this site, Christians must remember that Israel was compromised by the culture in which they lived. It was too strong for them. They caved and were thus defeated, becoming slaves to other nations and their gods. But God’s instruction for His people was uncompromising and remains so. Thus, Christians, in the absence of prophetic vision, must remain obedient to the law. What law? Love God and neighbor. How will keeping the law to love God be a blessing for those who adhere to it? I will leave it to the reader to cogitate upon that, but here is an enormous hint: If you love God, you will love what He loves and does not love. And if you love people, you will love them enough to steer them away from sinful lawlessness because sin brings death. Eternal death.

Please pray for the Church in the Unites States. Pray that the Lord will raise up biblically right and true prophetic voices.

 

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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For years, I have been puzzled and saddened over scriptures in the New Testament that are ignored in contemporary church practice. Let’s begin with Paul’s teaching about how all Christians are members of one body. It is a lengthy passage, but these two verses sum up how the evangelical church deals with this chapter today:

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).1

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).

It is these passages in Corinthians that pastors draw from when they preach their annual messages that their church is one body, everybody has a gift, and we all need each other to participate in the life of the church. However, they willingly ignore the rest of the chapter. It is clear that Paul is instructing the Corinthians about spiritual gifts in the body, but the gifts Paul lists are not at all on the radar of pastors who teach the we-all-have-a-gift-participate-in-church-life message. Why? Because most of the gifts listed in First Corinthians are either designated to the dustbin of church history or just plain ignored.

Here is the list of gifts that Paul says in this twelfth chapter that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”:

The utterance of wisdom

The utterance of knowledge

Faith

Healing

The working of miracles

Prophecy

The ability to distinguish between spirits

Various kinds of tongues

Interpretation of tongues

So, let’s have a moment of candor. How many of these gifts are manifestations “of the Spirit for the common good” in your church? If you cannot find more than a few, you should ask yourself why. Let me know what you discover. Here is my answer: The only one who is using “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” is the speaker/leader/pastor on the platform and a handful of Sunday School teachers, if we dump faith and the utterances of wisdom and knowledge into the speaker basket, which is a bit dubious, to be frank.

One person, or perhaps a handful. The majority sit silent in the meeting. Is that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit” or “the body does not consist of one member but of many”?

It stuns me that leaders/pastors have the courage to even use First Corinthians as their pitch to get their folks involved in the ministry of the church. They are the worst offenders of this teaching!

Later in the chapter, Paul, by the Holy Spirit, brings out another list of ministries.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:27–28).

Here is the list:

Apostle

Prophet

Teachers

Miracles

Gifts of healing

Helping

Administrating

Various kinds of tongues

This list may be a little more to the liking of pastors and leaders. Teachers—they—are in the list, as well as “helping” and “administrating.” Churches badly need helpers and administrators to keep the wheels rolling.

So, what about the rest of the list? It is problematic. Concerning the first one mentioned, apostle, very few want to take that title upon themselves, and rightly so. In my opinion, I look suspiciously upon those who do, primarily for this verse: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:12).

And the rest? Sure, pray for healing, they will say. Prophets? Well, that’s the same as a teacher, they may maintain, but they do not explain how the two are different. Why would Paul give two titles for the same ministry?

And tongues? Please.

So, what shall we do in light of the vast ignorance of this twelfth chapter of First Corinthians? It saddens me greatly that this is our current state. It saddens me that we ignore the obvious truth of God’s Word here. It saddens me because the gifts are given by God Himself for the common good, and almost no one is using them. It saddens me that the folks in the pews are thus reduced to listeners rather than participants and are therefore spiritually weak.

What shall we do? What we shall do is pray. “Father, please cause the Church to be obedient to Your word.”

 

1All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you have probably heard this statement: “If you find the perfect church don’t join it because then it won’t be perfect.” In other words, “It is futile to search for a perfect church. It doesn’t exist. But if you actually could find one, it would no longer be perfect because you’re a sinner, and it would therefore be imperfect when you joined. Get a clue, Christian. You’re a sinner like all the rest of us.” This has a humorous ring of truth to for those whom we perceive are perpetually unhappy with churches. A more amusing story, however, is this one: The crew on a ship in the South Pacific saw a man alone on a deserted island, waving his arms to flag them down. Some sailors boarded a small rescue boat and sped over to the man. They found him in ragged clothes and underfed. Three little huts stood behind him. They asked him what the hut on the left was for.

“That’s where I live.”

They asked him what the middle hut was for.

“That’s my church.”

They asked him what the third hut was for.

“That’s the church I left.”

Mea culpa: I once thoughtlessly agreed with this meme of unhappy church hoppers. Ah, but I was so much younger—and unthinking then.

Well, since we are older and wiser—hopefully—let’s think about this unhappy-church-hopper meme for a moment. Will just any church that you join be satisfactory? Is it as simple as, “All churches are imperfect because they are full of sinners saved by grace just like you and me.”? Does it matter which church I join?

Of course, it does.

Should I just join any church full of sinners like me?

Of course not. Those who repeat this meme wouldn’t, either.

Do Catholics join Lutheran and Reformed churches? Why wouldn’t they? Isn’t the church full of sinners just like they are?

Do Evangelical, Reformed, or Pentecostal believers join Catholic churches? Why wouldn’t they? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Do Evangelicals join churches that sing old hymns, catechize members, and have responsive readings from Scripture, and creeds and confessions from church history? Why wouldn’t they? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Would many Christians join a church that used only the King James bible and claimed it was the only true interpretation? Why not?

Would many Baptists or Lutherans or Reformed folks join Pentecostal or Charismatic churches? Why not? No church is perfect and neither are they.

Would many Pentecostals or Charismatics join Baptist, Lutheran, or Reformed churches? Why not? Aren’t those churches full of sinners just like they are?

Would Baptists join a church that doesn’t immerse believers at baptism?

And on and on we go.

So, we see that the prevailing always-unhappy-church-shopper meme is shallow and disingenuous. The very people who promote it attend churches for their own specific reasons. Certainly, it is biblical that we are sinners saved by faith and grace who are to gather together: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25).1 But let’s think about this for a moment. What does that gathering look like? A Reformed church? An Evangelical church? A Catholic church? A Pentecostal church? What biblical evidence do we have? Not much at all, except in the case of Corinth. Except for that church, we have no idea how these churches “did services.”

Believers should feel free to find a church that glorifies God and His Son Jesus Christ and preaches the truth of His Word alone. That may be difficult. Don’t compromise yourself because of a misleading meme.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles

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It is the beginning of a new year; a time for a look back as well as forward. A time for assessing one’s life and a dedication to make it better.

And, apparently, a time for casting a vision.

If that last sentence surprises you a little, it’s because that is not how you and I speak of ourselves. If you want to cut back on sugar and carbs and exercise more to lose weight, do you cast a vision to do so?

No. This is how corporations speak of themselves.

And churches, apparently.

If you attend a church, it is possible that this is the time of year when your leadership “casts a vision” or lays out your church’s “vision” for the year ahead. Perhaps we should ask this question: What does Scripture say about “vision casting”? There is no such practice by believers in the New Testament, unless we view the host of commands in Scripture as Jesus and the apostles “casting vision.” So, am I to cast a vision to love God and others more? Worthy “vision,” to be sure. However, what, exactly, are the visionary steps I should take to love God and others more? It seems to be there are only four steps I need to cast such a vision: Try to love God and neighbor more. Ask God for help to do so. Repent when I fail. Get up and try again.

But then I could not write a book about vision casting.

It would be a rather short book.

However, it seems some of our churches think the air they breathe is different than ours. Their sheep, they think, need to have a vision cast at, to, or before them so they can, um, be obedient? Believe Scripture? But here’s what’s really going on here. The subterranean meme behind this is: A leader is not a successful leader if he doesn’t cast a vision for his church.

Dr. Richard J. Krejcir wrote over a decade ago:

One of the top 10 healthy and influential churches in the world, that sends more missionaries (over 200, not including short term and part timers) than most denominations, has this simple Vision: “We are followers of Jesus Christ, ministers together, empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided by God’s Word.” And their value statement is, “We are committed to honoring God through worship and personal lifestyle, caring for one another, equipping one another for ministry and communicating God’s love to the world.” This church (Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, Ca) has over 6,000 members and 35 pastors following this simple decree! 1

Now we have come to the crux of the matter. It is about your church becoming successful.

So, we should ask a question in the middle of our success-driven culture which exerts so much influence over us: Was Jesus successful?

“Yes, of course!” every believer will proclaim.

At what did He succeed? How did He achieve that success?

What was His “vision”? He tells us.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). 2

What “hour” was this? What purpose was this? What was His vision?

To die, to be punished for our sin.

And to be resurrected, conquering death, sin, hell, and the grave.

Jesus commands us to follow Him in a caravan of death:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

Those who heard Jesus say these things had no allusions about their meaning. They saw crosses with bodies hanging on them all the time.

Will such a “vision” make your church “successful”? Jesus’ vision for your church is not that it becomes “successful.”

It is that believers in your church are willing to literally die, if necessary, to follow their Savior.

Take that vision and cast it. See what happens.

 

1http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=41940

2All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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For all those whose fangs and claws are extended after reading the heading, who are going to tell me that the kingdom of God is not taken by force, I agree with you.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s look at something Jesus said that we must puzzle our way through. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). 1 Let’s say from the outset that no one really knows what Jesus meant here, because we know that He maintained just the opposite. He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). In addition, Jesus never used violence in any way to bring His kingdom. The only violent incident in His ministry (Although Jesus’ turning over tables in the Court of the Gentiles is worthy of consideration; however, no one was hurt physically.) is when Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear, but Jesus told Peter to put his sword away and then healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:49-51).

So what in the world—or what not of this world—is Jesus talking about in Matthew?

Let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s try to place ourselves just a bit in the time of John’s and Jesus’ ministry. There had been no prophetic word for at least four hundred years in Israel. During that very dry period, the religious establishment had ample opportunity to develop a powerful legalistic system and hierarchy. People were afraid of the Pharisees. To go up against them meant being kicked out of the synagogue and thus becoming an outcast. “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42–43).

But here comes John, out of the blue. Born to a couple who had been notified by an angel of his birth. This hadn’t happened since Samson, if memory serves. However, when John began his ministry, he was outside the religious system and hierarchy and not subject to their intimidating fear. He was not anywhere near the temple; instead out in the wilderness. Priestly garments? No. Prophet’s garb: goat’s hair. Baptizing people in the Jordan River and calling them to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He was fiery. When the Pharisees and Sadducees “came to his baptism,” John didn’t exactly welcome them with open arms: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7–9).

Yummy words for the religious leaders to chew on, I’m sure.

Not only was John fiery, he prophesied that the Anointed One, the Messiah, was coming; indeed, already there. Then that Anointed One showed up. Was He in the hierarchical religious system? No. He was baptized in the Jordan by the brazen wilderness baptizer, not in a mikva pool.

Two men, one of them God incarnate, showing up to minister outside that powerful legalistic and hierarchical religious system. No imprimatur from that system, only opposition. All of this was sovereignly from God. Two men who had spiritual power but no religious, hierarchical power. What these two faced was wall—a legalistic, powerful, we’re-always-right—wall.

How do you penetrate such a wall?

Violence.

Now, when I write “violence,” I obviously don’t mean physical violence. However, from the point of view of the wall-breacher, it was. Hammering one’s mind and soul against a powerful, arrogant religious system. What does one do? In God’s wisdom, John and Jesus knew they could not reform it from within. It could not be reformed. It must end. And that end must come as an assault from the outside. John didn’t refer to this action as the breaching of a wall, but as the cutting down of a tree. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Please note that it was going to be God Himself who would be cutting down trees and throwing them into the fire. Yet, John and Jesus’ part—as men, so ordained by the Lord—was to engage the battle. It required strength of will. Perseverance. Willingness to suffer. Willingness to be alone.

By human reckoning, they both failed. Both were murdered by powerful systems. However, they were both conquerors. Jesus said John was the greatest born among women. And as we know, Jesus, God incarnate who suffered for our sins, was raised from the dead and conquered sin, death, hell, the grave, and the devil, and was exalted above all things.

So, a question. Did our Savior and John do violence against a religious hierarchy which was replaced by others in the future? Have you ever found yourself in a position of rightly, scripturally, challenging a religious hierarchy and system? I’m not referring to things like styles of worship or monies spent. I am addressing issues clearly from Scripture.

I have. Without going into details, here’s the crux of the matter: They simply could not hear the truth of Scripture. Nevertheless, we must continue to hammer our minds and souls against powerful, arrogant religious systems.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles

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Have you ever been in a large, public venue, where you are the center of attention, and you’re praying for people? If you have, you may have experienced the pressure of this feeling: Are you powerful in the Spirit? Are you—is your ministry—blessed by God? Produce something. Results, please.

In last week’s article, I attempted to strike down the notion that because Christians have had spiritual events in their lives, they should be elevated above others. This week, I would like to look at another danger concerning spiritual experiences: the lust for them.

Look at this passage: “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ So he left them and departed” (Matthew 16:1–4).1

The idea that one must “produce something,” which has happened to me and may have happened to you, was at work here. The religious leaders wanted Jesus to demonstrate if He was blessed, if He was powerful, if He could produce results. It didn’t matter that He had performed miracles in the past. “Do it now. Right here.” But Jesus told them they were evil and adulterous. Why?

The consummate sign of His messiahship, Emmanuel-God-With-Us, was not an act of power, like healing or delivering someone from demonic forces, but His death and resurrection—the sign of Jonah, as He said—which would restore the relationship that Adam had lost. It was not, “I have come to show you how powerful I am”—it was “I have come to be the Suffering Servant as prophesied, the One who will lay down His life and be wounded for your transgressions.” Those religious men of Jesus’ time were seeking after something other than that life-giving relationship, thus they were adulterous and evil. The true God, He alone, loves us and brings us true life and fulfillment and sacrificed Himself to do so. Nothing, not even something He did, is to be placed above Him.

As easy and understandable as this truth among Christians is, departure from it is where many of us Pentecostals and Charismatics begin to go astray.

Many years ago, I was at a healing meeting with my wife, Laurie. The call had been given to come forward, get prayed for, and perhaps slain in the Spirit as many had been. One of our relatives gave me an encouraging, gentle push on my back. I didn’t budge. Even then, in my relative youth, thankfully, the Lord had given me a healthy skepticism about such things. Most of you are aware, I assume, of a man who has become famous for this kind of ministry. But I must ask. What is its value? Where do we see this ministry in the New Testament? Please don’t misunderstand me. Being overwhelmed by the Spirit’s power is scriptural. It has happened in places where I was a ministering person. However, thankfully, I had nothing to do with it. I touched no one. No emotional music. No anything. We were just praying as we stood. However, let me tell you that this “slain in the Spirit” stuff has become so significant among Pentecostals that it has become a proof—as well as a healing or deliverance—of the power of the one who is praying.

Wow. You got the goods, baby.

But it has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual’s relationship with God.

That’s how goofy it has become. What has happened to our thinking? If anything at all occurs because one is praying, does the source of that power need to be explained?

Apparently.

So, why do Spirit-filled believers, after having come to the knowledge of Jesus because of His death and resurrection, seek further signs? Because we want to see the miracle-working God do wondrous things? That’s where it begins, perhaps, but it quickly turns into something else, something evil and adulterous.

I understand the yearning for a touch from God. But a touch is not Him. Seeking an experience, being slain, an act of power—none of these are Him and should not be sought. It becomes adulterous because seeking an experience from Him becomes more important than seeking Him.

God is loyal and steadfast. His love and mercies never end. He has made it possible to have a relationship with Him, which you do not deserve—not only a relationship, but a sonship. To have a Brother who died in your place, was punished in your place, and will share His inheritance with you, one you do not deserve. To have a Father who will love and care for you for eternity.

And you want a touch?

Do not seek spiritual signs and experiences. Do not take Him out of the spotlight and put in the spotlight a spiritual event, as thrilling or spectacular as it may be. Seek Him. Seek Him alone.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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Most of us by now I would think, have been exposed to media about demons—Christians and non-Christians alike. Most everything you have seen—especially if it’s from Hollywood—is false.

Not biblical.

Misleading.

Pagan and devilish.

Dangerous.

Let me begin by stating unequivocally that no titanic battle exists between the devil and his angels and the almighty God who created all things. No, not at all. In fact, the demons quiver in God’s presence. Here’s a great example from Matthew 8:28–29. The “he” in the first verse refers to Jesus.

“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’”

Hmm. So, the demons were afraid of Jesus because they thought He was going to torment them “before the time.” So, there was fear here; not among Jesus or His followers—just among the demons. The demons ended up in some pigs. No chanting or hocus pocus. No heads spinning. No pea soup being spewed. Imagine that.

Here’s something interesting from Luke:

“And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’” (Luke 4:33–36).

Who’s taking orders here? Who’s concerned about being destroyed?

Two things to note before we move on. The demons recognized Jesus when many of those in the synagogue did not. Jesus told the demon to be silent. Lesson: Don’t talk to a person possessed by a demon.

“Ok,” the reader may say, “but this is Jesus, after all. We’re not Him. What should we do?”

Part of the problem for Christians is that the books outside the Gospels offer little help about practical ways to minister to demonized people. However, we should learn from Jesus’ ministry in this area and take the attitude of James, the brother of Jesus: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).

In Scripture, there are no bloody attacks on Christians by demons. What we have seen in the media about exorcisms is a pagan fabrication. In their ignorance, they present demon-possessed people who must have a ritual performed to exorcise them. It will involve the cross or some religious symbol. Chanting something, perhaps in Latin. However, no one in the New Testament held up a cross before a demonized person or chanted. The media think a symbol of the cross is imbued with power. It is not. Power resides with God, who has authority over everything—everything in the world. He created everything, including the devil and fallen angels.

Here is an enlightening passage concerning the devil and how strong he is: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1–3).

It was one angel, not an army of them, who threw Satan into the bottomless pit, and we were not even given the angel’s name.

This is the coup de main concerning the devil and his angels: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:7–10).

Should Christians ignore the devil? No. He goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He is a deceiver (John 8:44; Revelation 20:10), and we are to resist him. But we are not under his power, nor are we enslaved to him as the world is. The media, however, produce false movies and shows about the overwhelming, scary power of the devil, so powerful that he defeats Christians. Ever wonder where these ideas come from?

So, some practical advice. If you do come across a demonized person, pray. In fact, keep prayed up all the time. When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast a demon out, he said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). But if you read the account, Jesus didn’t go away and pray. He had already prayed. Also, don’t use a religious symbol. Don’t just chant things or use some religious formula. Speak with the authority given to you by Jesus. They are afraid of Him, remember.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

 

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My wife and I were watching something on television a while back, and, as we usually do, we searched for something to flip to during the commercials. I noticed that one channel was broadcasting a Mormon Women’s Conference, so I thought I’d tune in to see what was being said. I have never heard a Mormon message. A lot of right words were spoken. A lot of stuff about our loving heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus. A few accounts of personal experiences with God. Some references to what Mormon elders have said.

So much sounded so good.

And so familiar.

I flipped back and forth as the program progressed, but when I noticed that the speaker was addressing “How to Access the Power of God,” I was curious about how she would handle the subject. This is a how-to topic Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals sometimes weigh in on, depending on how one views “power” in Christian life. I don’t remember the specifics of the woman’s message, but the overlying theme was that we had to do something to get God’s power.

Again, it sounded so familiar. This you-must-do-something-to-access-God’s-power is an idea that we Christians (and Mormons, apparently) have dreamed up all by ourselves, perhaps with some other-worldly help.

It is stupefying, laughable, and tragic. Yep. All those emotions wrapped up in one messy message package. “Why?” you may ask. “Don’t you want to access God’s power?” Well, let me answer that question by asking another. Can you point out to me in Scripture where we are given instructions about how to access God’s power?

Hmm. Nothing comes to mind except asking for God’s help in certain situations.

The Charismatics and Pentecostals go-to passage for power access is often the second chapter of Acts. But think with me here. What were those Jesus followers doing when the Lord poured out His Spirit? They were all in one place. They were waiting. They were in one accord. Thus, some of us think, if we fulfill these criteria, the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon our gathering. One glaring problem exists however. Those early followers were gathered together, waiting, and in one accord because Jesus had told them to do these very things and promised what would happen if they did. Therefore, faith in a specific promise and a command from God were at work here.

The outpouring at Pentecost was God’s idea. He initiated it. The disciples would never have thought of it.

The outpouring of the Spirit and His power at the house of Cornelius is another example (Acts 10). This gracious act among the Gentiles was not in Peter’s thinking. It originated with God. He told Peter to do something. He did it. The Lord told Cornelius to do something. He did it.

Boom. God showed up.

How about Mary? Was the miraculous conception of the Messiah in her womb her idea? Her response proves otherwise. What did she do to “access God’s power” and become pregnant? She said amen to God’s word, in faith.

Let’s look at the most dynamic use of God’s power in the Old Testament: the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Was this deliverance Moses’ idea? Hardly. How did Moses “access God’s power”? The Lord told him to do certain things. He did them.

Divine action begins with God. Too often, we Christians think it begins with us.

When the Lord God chooses to do anything through people—to exercise His power—He goes right ahead and does it, regardless of our spiritual condition and knowledge of God’s truth which is, comparatively speaking, woefully abhorrent in the light of His righteousness and foreknowledge.

So, am I saying you should just relax and wait for God? No. I think you should pursue and love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. However, nothing in that pursuit will earn you access to God’s power. He does what He does with whomever He chooses to do it.

End of story.

So, believer, if God has told you to do something, either in His Word or by a direct, personal command, do it. Then He will do what He will do. Be careful that you don’t boast when God’s gracious, powerful acts happen in your life or in your church. You were there. Yay, you. You were faithful. Even that faith is from God (Ephesians 2:1-10). God did what He did because—He desired to.

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3).1

 

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

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Oh, church, let’s stop talking about ourselves. What a great job we’re doing. How we’re helping the poor. Please. For our own good.

We are losing our reward.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:1–4).1

Think about this. Would you go around telling people how good you are at giving to the poor? No? Then why do our churches?

Please, let us stop boasting about what great speakers our pastors are. Why? Paul told us.

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:3–5).

Paul wanted those folks in Corinth to be confronted by the truth of God’s word, not by his awesome ability to communicate, but only by the power of God. Listen. People are only convicted of their sins by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, not by our words. By our humor. By our “relevant” messages.

Only the Father—not our on-stage presence—draws people to Jesus. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a).

Let us please stop talking about how wonderful our worship is. One church website wrote, “Our music is contemporary, and not only do we like it, we tend to think God likes it too, because He keeps showing up.” Now, think with me about this for a moment. Suppose you were telling someone about how you worship when you play an instrument. Can you imagine yourself saying, “You won’t believe it! God likes the music I play because when I play the piano, He keeps showing up!” Or even if you were in a small group. “Yeah! Our worship is so good that God shows up when we sing!”

Does that sound boastful to you? Or just plain weird?

I know it’s so church-counterculture to say, but we cannot deny that the Bible—the truth we claim to cling to—says this:

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (2 Corinthians 10:17–18).

Jesus didn’t boast about what He did, either. There’s good evidence that He didn’t want people to talk about what He did at all.

Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat (Mark 5:41–43).

Can you imagine any church not broadcasting such an event to anyone and everyone?

If we did, we’d be boasting. Let’s be honest. It would be disingenuous to claim that we didn’t expect people to be drawn to our church because of such a miracle, don’t you think? That we never considered that might happen? No, rather, we should follow the example of the Lord God Almighty.

Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it” (Matthew 9:29–30).

Jesus didn’t need to advertise. Why do we?

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Luke 5:13–14).

Think about the question I asked above and get back to me. I’d really like to hear your answer.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

 

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