A Voice in the Wilderness

IS IT REVIVAL?

The devil is quite adept at his job description, so good that often times his opponents don’t recognize his tactics, which is his purpose. He takes what God creates for His own glory and corrupts it into something with a distorted resemblance of its intention, superficially appearing like something good but corrupted into defilement and deception.

Thus he has done with revival. What some see as revival is nothing more than a man-led, flesh-indulging display driven for self-gratification, self-promotion, and the appeasement of superficial faith, providing nothing more than momentary ecstasy for the listener and hero-worship of the messenger.

God forgive us for not pursuing the death to self that is the predecessor to any true move of God!

This has much to do with why modern day so-called revivals are fleeting. Far too often they are flocked to as if the blessing is coming through a human personality or geographic location rather than personal and corporate consecration and desperation for God. And far too often, too great a focus is placed on the messenger, which dangerously borders on idolatry.

God is not in it!

True revival is different from that:

  • True revival shakes our foundations.
  • It interrupts our plans.
  • It is not accommodating to our agenda.
  • It does not exalt my flesh; it crucifies it.
  • It does not bring me, my church or “my ministry” attention or prominence: True revival says, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
  • It does not increase my influence; It increases God’s ability to mold, shape, form, and lead us in His will for His glory.
  • And it is not wrapped around the personality of man; It is completely enveloped in the Person of Christ.

The Spirit stirs us to understand:

  • Revival cannot be hoarded; It must be shared!
  • It does not come for my personal exaltation; It comes to do something in me so profound that it flows with power, authority and brokenness into the lives of others.
  • Its focus is Jesus, not me.
  • It doesn’t come to empower me toward personal advancement or to help me build my own kingdom; It comes to break me, crush me, crucify my flesh, bury my old man, obliterate all that is not Jesus, and fill me with so much of Him that my passion solely becomes the mission to make Him known.
  • Revival burns away my culturally-infused desire to gratify and please myself and transforms me to live for the glory and honor of His name.
  • Revival changes me so that God can change others through me.

May the prayer of A. W. Tozer be the cry of our hearts:

“O God, be exalted over my possessions.  Be exalted over my friendships.  Be exalted over my reputation.  Make me ambitious to please You even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten.  Rise, O Lord, into Your proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health and even life itself.  Let me decrease that You may increase.”

Hosea 10:12  “Sow with a view to righteousness; Reap in accordance with kindness. Break up the fallow ground, until He comes to rain righteousness upon you.”

In the NLT  “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and shower righteousness upon you.”

[Emphasis mine.]

The only thing that will heal this nation

Response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, posted on social media August 15, 2017
It is with great disdain and disgust as I, my family and this ministry grieve over the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia and others in our nation caused by hatred and bigotry, and by a supreme failure to see beauty in the diversity of God’s creation, each one of us made perfect in His sight and in His image. Far too many people are lost in their rage, bound in sin, and have become tools of the enemy of our souls to facilitate his purposes on this earth to “steal, kill and destroy” and to divide God’s people. They are wretched sinners just like you and me, in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. 

When I begin to point my finger of shame at politicians, the press, counterproductive social movements and hate-mongers more concerned about spewing their anger and manipulating for their own agendas than for the good of others, my finger quickly points to the church of Jesus Christ who has for decades relied far too heavily on political and social movements in the kingdom of this world to accomplish the goals of justice, the preservation of morality and the advancement of the Christian message. Sin cannot by legislation or judicial process be removed from our hearts or our society. It cannot be eradicated by any attempt of men or women on this earth without the blood of Jesus Christ and the empty tomb being at the center of every effort!

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways (emphasis mine), then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The ONLY thing that will heal this nation is for those who call on the name of Jesus Christ to become desperate enough to pray, hungry enough for change to fast, broken enough to repent, and bold enough to place God and His ways above our own. Then and only then can we be a light and hope to others desperate for truth, healing and grace.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma”  (Ephesians 4:29-5:2 NASB)

”Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”  (Philippians 2:1-4 NASB)

And in the words of Jesus Himself in John 13:34-35 –

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Oh God, forgive us for not submitting our emotions, fears and rage to Your mercy and grace. Forgive us for placing our hope in the institutions of man rather than in You alone! “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). We throw ourselves before You at Your feet. Cleanse us from every form of racism, hatred, bitterness and indifference. Help us through Your Holy Spirit to walk pure and holy before You and to become the agents of healing and restoration. Help us to follow in Your footsteps to place the needs of others above our own, to love as You love, and to forgive as You forgive! Help us to reject all claims of hell and every lie from this world that would divide us. Help us instead to hold fast to Your unchanging, everlasting Truth! Help us to be the first to reach out our hands in love, in grace, in healing and in forgiveness. Change the climate in our nation. Help us to reveal You, in our actions and reaction, in our thoughts, speech and motives, as the only true hope of this world!

We pray for our nation. We pray for those wounded by hate and for those propagating it. We pray for lies to be cast aside and truth – God’s Truth – to rise again among us. Forgive us for removing You from our courthouses, schools and public places. We suffer the consequences! We place You in the most important place – as Lord of our hearts, minds and future. Guide us closer to Your heart, and prepare us for Your soon return! You are coming soon, Jesus. We see the evidence so clearly around us. Help us, Holy Spirit, to be faithful to you and to one another.

And thank You, God, for Your grace, for there is always hope when we look to You!

God Wants Your Hands and Feet

Is America turning to God?  Is America turning away from God?  There are definite signs of both, aren’t there?  The real question is, “Is your heart turning to God?” 

I have been able to fellowship with the church in many cultures and traditions with different and beautiful expressions of worship in North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. God is certainly glorified by this kaleidoscope of worship. The scripture even tells us that people from every tribe, every language and every culture will gather around the throne and worship the Lamb of God (Revelation 7:9). I look forward to that day.

With all the “visible” differences in the church around the world, I truly see only two that matter: a church that is seeking God, and a church that is not. Both are very present today.

Some have reduced God’s message of redemption to a tool for social reform. Some have made it a vehicle for personal advancement. Others have re-written Jesus’  words to make Him only “one of the ways” to eternal life. Still others have made the gospel just another method among many to teach morality and ethics, or have discounted Jesus and those who follow Him for not being ‘politically correct.’

In many places around the world, it’s all or nothing. Either serve Him with all your heart, or don’t serve Him at all. No middle ground. The cost is too high. The effect on your life too great. Give Him everything, or give Him nothing at all.

Combine this with the depth of spiritual, moral and emotional devastation which has led to a mass of wounded lives living in despair and fear, a cultural expression of faith in a politically correct (and often dead) church just does not suffice. Preparing a good Christian program and opening the doors is not enough. Neither is heralding truth on a soapbox.

Truth must have hands, and it must have feet. It must have shoulders to lean on and knees to intercede. It must have tear-stained cheeks from hearts that feel the pain of the people, hastening them to do something not just tangible but right in response, pursuing healing and justice. It must be church that goes to the oppressed and rejected and compels them to come into fellowship with the Healer, Savior, and Lover of their souls.

Tom White of Voice of the Martyrs wrote, “If we hoard our holiness, keeping it inside the church, is it really holy?  Are we godly if our Christian witness is only heard inside a sanctuary? …The light of an active, verbal testimony has greater effect out in the darkness, not in a Sunday school that the world ignores.”  He goes on to say, “God doesn’t want your heart, He already has that. He wants your feet.” 

Salt and light must be more than a phrase. Enduring hardship not a figment of the imagination but a lifestyle. Ministry must not be a position with a title, but the physical hands and feet of Christ serving in our world. 

In the New Testament and in many places around the world, what I have just described is church as normal.  And in America? . . .

I encourage you in Christ: The times are urgent. The needs are great. The harvest is ripe and ready. The Master is calling. Don’t just go to church. Be the church. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. And let “church as normal” become church that “turns the world upside down for Christ.” 

Climbing that mountain

Why do we do what we do in ministry? Is it because man opened the door and it seemed the best thing to do? Was it a logical career choice or a good step toward the next step of our future?

Or did we receive a mandate from God? Did we climb a mountain and, upon reaching its summit, gain a vision from God that we are willing to sacrifice all for?

I spent the summer of my sophomore year in college doing missions work in Mexico. During a break, some of my new Mexican friends and I took a day trip to Bahia Kino (Kino Bay) on the Sea of Cortez. It became my most memorable day of the entire summer. At the time, Bahia Kino was a quaint and quiet village. We swam unexpectedly among dolphins and shared stories on the beach. Adjacent to us was a rocky mountain with a cross on its summit. As the sun started to set behind that mountain, the glow of the sky and the view of the cross inspired us to climb. So we did, with bare feet.

The mountain didn’t look so high when we started, but the more we climbed it seemed we would never reach the summit. Our feet began to hurt on the jagged rocks. Our knees were bruised and bleeding. Halfway through the climb, we were thirsty and exhausted, but we would not turn back.

Finally, we reached the summit. We reached the cross. And the view was breathtakingly spectacular. We stayed there, speechless, each one of us soaking in the picturesque scene in private conversation with God. While there was barely enough light to make it down the mountain, we reluctantly began our descent. The experience never left me, even to this day.

As I look back at our work in the inner city for the past 24 years, it has certainly not been easy. Many, many times my feet hurt. My knees were bruised and bleeding. I was parched, exhausted and weary. And of course, during some of those very times, doors of opportunity opened by man came along that would have brought me escape, relief, and most certainly more comfort and provision going forward.

But I could not. I could not because God called me to climb this mountain. It was His mandate, not mine, not man’s, and certainly not for convenience or financial security, but a vision and calling from God. Somehow I knew that if I ceased to climb this mountain, I would miss the glimpse of His glory that I have been striving so long for.

Today I am climbing the mountain again. I am asking God for a new glimpse of His glory. I am seeking a greater comprehension of His purpose. I hope to find it. But should He not choose to give it in the time that I would desire, I am reminded that Jesus had more than sore feet, bruised knees, and parched exhaustion when He climbed the hill called Golgotha.

In the times that I understand and in the times that I do not, I still want to climb. “I am not seeking the approval of man, or else I would no longer be a bondservant of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Sore feet, bruised and bleeding knees, parched mouth and exhausted body cannot keep me from climbing this mountain if at its summit I can hear His voice, see His glory, and be near His cross.

As the old spiritual says, “Lord, don’t move that mountain. Just give me the strength to climb.” 

The Greatest Concern

Some years ago, I was invited to be a part of a panel discussion with other pastors and student ministry leaders. The topic of the discussion was the attrition of Christian students once they leave high school and attend college. Statistics say that 80 percent of students who faithfully attend church in high school no longer attend by the time they graduate college. This is a trend that has continued for many years.

Why is this happening? The consensus on the panel was that there are just not enough things to do. Not enough churches have activities and events specifically targeting college students. Most agreed that the absence of the activities they had in high school ministry – the activities and events that kept them very busy for Jesus – is the most significant determining factor of why they do not remain faithful in church attendance.

I whole-heartedly disagreed. My response was this:

“The problem is not that college students do not have enough activities provided for them to remain involved. The problem is that too many of them had high school ministries that were focused on events and activities, not a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ and being discipled into the Lordship of the Christ-life.”

I stand by that conviction today. Events and activities can be good, but only when they provide fellowship, are a light to the community, and are the first steps to becoming a disciple.

Far too many ministers I know are focused more on the next event than mentoring the next disciple. If our ministry focuses event to event and success is determined by the size, scope and enjoyment of those activities, we fail. We fail because the people perpetually remain merely “hearers” of the Word. The Apostle James speaks of this. He says hearers of the Word will “delude” or “deceive” themselves (James 1:22). How can we deceive ourselves? By believing that because we are involved in Christian activities, we are servants of Jesus Christ.

I will never forget the words of the late Keith Green, Christian singer and unashamed preacher of the Word. “Going to church makes you no more of a Christian than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Amen to that! We aren’t made disciples by osmosis. We are made disciples by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and by making Him the Lord and King of our every breath.

Jesus said it like this. When Martha was stressed and offended because her sister Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, the Master responded, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her  (Luke 10:41-42 NLT emphasis mine).

Maybe some of us need to rediscover the one thing worth being concerned about, for ourselves and our disciples.

Is our free stuff producing Disciples?

I had a conversation with a respected friend, David Miller (Southern Baptist Mission Board), via email not too long ago about the real message and purpose of the church. David gave me permission for me to share some of his thoughts:

“We, as missionaries, have won many folks around the world to free stuff: medical attention, food, friendship with a North American, etc. The American church has won many people to good childcare, snappy music, new buildings, thought provoking share groups, etc. John preached in an out of the way place, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” and had standing crowds that acted on their obedience to participate in an act (baptism) that marked them for life.

“Sure, you want to see a person come clean from an abusive … lifestyle, but it is only through accepting Christ and Him taking control of a person’s life.”

In his book The Prodigal Church, Jared Wilson stated, “Only the gospel goes deep enough to effect real heart change. Everything else is just behavior modification.” David continued by saying, “Tom, we have, many times, taught behavior modification through our churches and ministries!”

I completely concur. The evidence is everywhere around us. We have won many people to events and activities but not into an authentic, life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.

One of the most important things that I have learned through serving the church in many nations in the “third” world is this: We don’t need “fluff and stuff” to turn people and entire regions to Jesus. We just need the message of the cross.

Let us remember Jesus’ words: “Go and make disciples…”  These words have never been more urgent than the days we live in today.

Next blog: The Greatest Concern

 

Pursuing Revival with Right Motives

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” (James 4:3 NASB)

We don’t have the answer because we ask amiss, with the wrong motives. We are not asking God for the revival He truly wants to give us. We are not preparing for the revival He truly wants to give us. Maybe we don’t even have a glimpse of the revival that He wants to give us. We must cease asking amiss and begin to ask according to His heart, His desires, and His plans.

What does real revival look like when it comes? There is brokenness. There is unity. God’s servants are putting the needs of others above their own. There is true fellowship. There is hunger for God and thirst for righteousness. There is prayer before, during and after every step. There is desperation. And there is obedience to that which is closest to God’s heart: the saving of souls, the Great Commission.

We ask amiss when we pursue a word from a prophet of flesh rather than trust in the Word God has already given. We ask amiss when we run to an event, a church, or a geographic location expecting to receive it there rather than in a closet humbled before God in repentance. We ask amiss when we make an idol out of manifestations rather than coming into His throne room with holy hands and pure hearts lifted in bewildered gratitude for His grace. We ask amiss when we want to own a revival so that we can make ourselves a spectacle in the eyes of man. We ask amiss when we say we want to get closer to God but we have no love.

So let us not ask amiss. Let us ask Him for true revival. Let us ask to be broken and crushed under the weight of His Mercy. Let us ask to finally grasp the cost of our sin. Let us ask to be living sacrifices. Let us ask to serve others rather than seek for ourselves. Let us ask to love and forgive unconditionally. Let us ask for the fire of God’s grace to consume our flesh and burn away all of the chaff so that we can be more acceptable to Him. And let us ask to reach the nations with the blood of the Cross and the Only Name by which mankind can be saved, and that is the precious name of Jesus.

Yes, let us ask, and let us pour ourselves out until we are completely empty so that we can be filled by Him.

“… Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT).

 

Hindrances to Revival

What are the hindrances to revival? They are many, and they are very prevalent in many efforts seeking revival today. Some of the most harmful ones are:

  1. An attempt to replicate through human analysis and effort what God has done before.
  2. A focus on emotion and manifestation.
  3. Following a human personality and “prophetic” utterances of man rather than Christ Jesus and His Word.
  4. The absence of serving as expressed in Philippians 2:1-5.
  5. Making the move of God an idol.
  6. Pride, manifested in these ways: Look at my revelation! Look at my anointing! Look what God is doing through me! And then attempting to market or “show off” what God has done.
  7. The absence of repentance and brokenness.
  8. A lack of passion for the lost and action reaching them.
  9. The absence of desperation, supplication and fasting.
  10. Sin.

With any of these things present, we will not experience a God-ordained move of His Spirit and favor among us.

God already gave us the words we need. 2 Chronicles 7:14-5 and Matthew 5:6 are among them, and this one:

“… Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and shower righteousness upon you”  (Hosea 10:12 NLT).

Pursuing Authentic Revival

There is a lot of talk about revival today, and certainly we are in need of an authentic one. But revival will not come in the ways that we think or even in some of the ways we are pursuing.

The authentic revivals of history (such as the Welsh revival, the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening) were not birthed by people seeking manifestations. They were not attempting to replicate something God had done before. They did not come with prophetic utterances preceding them. They were not founded on a personality, church, ministry or geographic location. They were not even expected to the magnitude they occurred.

People were hungry for God. They had become desperate for something authentic and had abandoned looking to man for answers. In their desert places, they developed an insatiable hunger and unquenchable thirst for God, and God fulfilled His Word: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

They pursued God in unity. They laid down all divisions. There were no walls between them. This unity was not concocted superficially nor corrupted by hidden agendas. It was genuine love and acceptance of one another fostered through brokenness, serving in the image of Christ, and desperation for God.

Genuine humility was present. They completely abandoned their own agendas. They were seeking no prosperity on earth. Nothing was more important than finding and knowing God. They desired God’s Name (Isaiah 26:8) and in no way sought to make a name for themselves. They nailed everything they had and everything they were to the cross.

There was undiluted preaching of the Word. No tickling of the ears, no fear of man, no compromise. This fostered an awakening to God’s Word among the people. Every authentic revival was preceded by the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the people rededicating themselves to the reading and study of God’s Word. Through this, they stripped away the things that had been added to the Cross by cultural, fleshly and self-centered representations of the Gospel. They returned to the basics: love, prayer and the Word.

True revival wants the name of Jesus to be known among the nations, and thus there was a focus on the Great Commission. The people understood, accepted and adopted God’s priority of reaching souls. God’s priority became their priority – the salvation of the lost and hurting. As they focused on the Great Commission rather than heaping unto themselves, the Holy Spirit empowered them to accomplish the task for which He was sent to the church: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

We simply need to prepare the atmosphere for revival and seek God with all of our hearts. If our efforts are pure and genuine, God will respond.

“… Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT).

Do we want a godly President or a revival in our nation? Perhaps we can’t have both.

Do we want a godly President or a revival in our nation? Perhaps we can’t have both.

As we stand today in this Presidential election, leading on one side is a prideful man who has lowered the bar on American politics with his child-like ranting and plays to crowds for popularity with little conviction for principles of decency, while focusing on his personal hunger for power. On the other side is a woman who promotes the moral and spiritual corruption of our nation by supporting the destruction of Biblical marriage, promoting homosexuality, supporting unrestricted abortion (even the hideous third-trimester procedure), endorsing transsexual bathrooms in public schools and public places, who agreed with the Houston mayor who subpoenaed the sermons of pastors, and who stated last year that abortion rights and homosexual rights are more important than religious rights in our nation. I tell you that if these two individuals become their party’s candidates, as a follower of Christ, I cannot vote for either.

Since the moral and spiritual decay in our nation became so vivid in the 1960’s, the church in this nation has sought the preservation of righteousness through the election of leaders who hold to doctrines compatible with the Evangelical church. But our faith and beliefs are being attacked more than ever before with vengeance under the divisiveness, sinfulness, and self-indulgence in our culture.

God is not speaking to me about peace and godliness rising in our nation nor is He telling me to look for hope in any political figure or party. He is reminding me to make sure there is no sin in my house while He is speaking to me about our nation and our leaders from Daniel 5:22-23 –

” … You knew all of this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven [emphasis mine] . . . you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny.”

The words that follow are words of judgment.

Truly, the desperate cry from the church of Jesus Christ should not be for a leader that will help preserve for us what’s left of righteousness in America, but that God will look down from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

We need revival. Maybe we can’t have revival with a “godly” leader in office that allows the church to continue to sit in on its comfortable sofa entrusting the righteousness of America into the hands of political leaders. It was never to be entrusted there. Righteousness for a nation is entrusted in God’s church.

I read an article recently about how God wants to make America great again. I completely and wholeheartedly disagree. God wants to make His name great in America again. Let’s change our focus now and remember that we are to be followers and seekers of Jesus Christ before we are Americans or anything else. Our only hope is in Jesus.

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Next blog: What will it take to bring revival in America?