“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’
“Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’
“The people remained at a distance while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21).
I live in the heart of America. Or maybe it’s America’s waistline. I don’t know … it’s called the Bible Belt. Waistline it is …
There’s a church on every corner where I come from. Many towns around here have more churches than bars, banks or schools. I even been to several places that I thought might have had more churches than homesteads. We have definitely given the Lord a place to stay in the waistline of America.
Do you want to know what else we have here in abundance? Rehab clinics. Because I happen to come from a place that also has an overabundance of drug addicts. The county I live in is #2 in the state for heroin usage, and by the looks of things, the margin separating us from #1 is getting smaller and smaller by the day.
I was out running the other day and passed three churches on one street. A building in between them, with an inscription above the door that said, “Erected in 1952 Educational Building for —–“ It was the church’s Sunday school building. It was two or three stories tall, a real monument to the wealth of the church, and the youth that must have inhabited their great sanctuaries. That church is still as big as it used to be, but sadly, it’s congregation has dwindled to a faithful few.
I’ve been running past these churches for days, listening to the Lord speak a message to me that frankly, is kind of hard to share. It’s not popular. But He’s given me such a burden about it, I am sitting here trying to figure out how to be tactful so you’ll keep reading …
America is filled with churches that are filled with dry bones. Bones that once had the breath of life in them, but now they’re just embers of a dying fire. The message of Christ – the message that is so powerfully capable of saving the multitudes and changing the hearts of millions – has become meaningless drivel. The church has capitulated to a crowd of self-seekers who Jesus said, “Honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). How long have we watered down the Gospel so that people can be comfortable in our pews? How long have we given them a powerless motivational speech so they don’t have to deal with the Holy Spirit’s conviction? They come into church with itching ears and instead of giving them a truth that requires them to be real with God, we give them a lie so they feel good about themselves. We’ve turned the Gospel into a lie to shield them from the truth of repentance. Listen to me! There is no forgiveness without repentance. Therefore, there is no grace without confronting the sin inside. The law was given so that our sins would be known to us so that we can receive grace (Romans 5:10). But “where there is no law, there is no trespass” (Romans 4:15). Paul is telling us that because we hear the law, we are conscious of our sin. That knowledge leads us to Christ because we are separated from God while living in sin. Jesus died so we can have access to forgiveness and freedom from the chains of sin. We are no longer bound to it, we are free!
This is such a powerful, liberating message. But it’s also foolishness and unacceptable. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Sadly, we’ve catered to the people who see it as foolishness instead of letting God’s word be true and every man a liar. We’ve created a parallel Gospel with all the “good” parts that everyone wants to hear. You know, the parts that tell us how awesome God thinks we are, and how much He loves us and wants to do amazing things in our lives. And so as not to offend anyone, we’ve taken out all the parts we don’t want to deal with.
- Be holy as I am holy. (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44,20:26)
- The one who does what is sinful is of the devil (1 John 3:8)
- No one who is born of God keeps on sinning (1 John 3:9)
- “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11)
- “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” *Hebrews 10:26-27)
The GOOD NEWS is that Jesus died so that we can be free from the grip of sin. Humanity was given a free will that was subject to the law of sin for thousands of years until Christ came and, by his death, liberated our wills, giving us control again so that we can live in Him, not in sin.
Just like the Israelites in the desert, so many people come in to church and become terrified by God’s righteousness. They don’t like hearing that they are wrong, because they are just living out the New Age gospel that tells them that their happiness is god. They don’t realize that either way, there’s a fire they’re going to face. It will either be the purifying fire of God that consumes them and burns up everything in their lives that is not in line with His Spirit, or it will be the eternal fire that consumes forever the enemies of God. And we aren’t comfortable with this part of the Gospel to their detriment, and ours. Dear preachers, haven’t you read James 3:1? “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Your motivational speeches that lack power and truth are killing people all around you and God is saying to us, just as he said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people … so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. If I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin and I will hold you accountable for their blood” (Ezekiel 3:17-18). That’s a high calling, brothers and sisters. Is there no fear and trembling when God speaks this word to you? Perhaps that is the place to start.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).
This is a good word! A liberating word. Remember the day God reached down into the muck and mire of your life and pulled you out? You heard the full Gospel. You wrestled with it. You were broken by it, and then mended by Jesus. Remember that day? It was a good one! That message that rescued you was meant to rescue others. It’s powerful. It will bring people back into the churches. Give them Jesus! When Paul began his missionary journey, he began his ministry debating the Old Testament in the temple. By the time he made it around to the Corinthians, his method – his message – had changed drastically. He said to them, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).
The message of the cross is powerful. It’s also offensive to the flesh, and our churches are full of people who have been encouraged to live in the flesh for so long, we are afraid to give them the simple truth. We tickle their ears to keep them happy, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. By hook or by crook, Satan vows to have us and he is having his way in our churches and our communities because we don’t want to come before the congregation in fear and trembling. We want them to be comfortable and we want to be comfortable.
Let me challenge you, pastor friend. Get back to the basics. Trade in your crafty message of half-truths for the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you want power back in your church and you want to fill the pews again and see people saved, get back to the unadulterated Word of God. Put down the books written by men you admire and aspire to be and consult with God over your message. See if He doesn’t lead you back to Jesus. Then Jesus will say to you, I am sure, “Go and feed my sheep” (John 21:17).