preaching

All posts tagged preaching

Us Against the World

Published May 17, 2017 by Dawn

There was them, and there was me. We were all doing the same thing from different ends of the hall, but they all stood in a large group at the other end, engaging in conversation and warding off delinquents by their size and presence. I stood alone at the my end, fending off the masses alone. No one ventured down to my end of the hall. They kept to their end and left me to mine. The students, of course, knew my end was the weaker one. They were scheming shenanigans and I was the softy letting them pass because I wanted them to have their last hoorah. I loudly ushered them back into their classes, enforced sternly where a breech of authority could be plainly seen, but otherwise slowly turned from their fun so they could have it. At the other end of the hallway, there was a reunion of teachers. They all seemed to be having a good time, providing a comedic escape for the haggard few enforcing authority down there. I reflected to myself: isn’t this how it’s always been? The Christian life, symbolized.

I’m a loner. Probably not by choice at first, but now I relish it. I used to relish people and activities, but years of isolation and loneliness have turned me from extrovert to introvert and I have finally just embraced it. The truth is, I don’t belong in most groups because there’s too much that goes on that I disdain. I don’t “get” most jokes because my humor is decently nonexistent. What the world finds funny, I abhor. I have a fresh dislike for gossip, having been the subject of a very painful strain lately. I think most opinions are ridiculous, having their root in human logic rather than the Word of God. This is me, as symbolized here, coming out from among them and being separate. I don’t think I chose this. I just read the Bible until it became the only truth I care about and it seems that this isolation and loneliness is a direct result of that one pursuit: the wisdom and knowledge of God.

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). Sadly, the church is trying to engage this present culture with their own smoke and mirrors. We try to engage the godless with the very things that offend the Holy Spirit, throwing off the cloak of righteousness that separates us in favor of anything we can find in the costume closet that makes the lost look at us with oooohs and ahhhhs. We might get their attention at first, but then we adopt their ways and call it “Christianity.” In fact, we are being less Christ-like and more like the devil every day. The world cannot distinguish us because we would rather fit in – make it into that gaggle at the end of the hallway – then stand alone.

I’m not judging. I know it’s painful to be the odd man out. I lived it for many years before I finally managed to silence the still small voice inside long enough to run into the world and taste it’s wild fruit. It’s intoxicating. Mezmerizing. Death to the man or woman of God inside. So I went back into the Word, and necessarily, farther from being able to “hang” with most of the people in my life because we just aren’t on the same page. The things most people revel in, I find repulsive. This is not to imply that I am perfect. I am not. But when the Holy Spirit is your most constant companion, your discernment for what pleases God is awakened and you struggle to abide by things you once found “normal human behavior.” You desire less of the world and more of heaven in your daily life.

It’ll happen, friend, if you aren’t careful. Get a little too reckless with your time and you will find that the more you give to God, the less you will like the world around you. The less you will fit in. The more you will fight the enemy because people will dislike you simply because of who your friends are. While they have so many, you will only have three: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. You will become an absurdity among men. Don’t fight it. You have been called to be a peculiarity (1 Peter 2:9). God has spoken your name, calling you to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). You will either embrace the world with all it’s present, albeit fading, glory. Or you will embrace Christ. One offers you all that glitters in this life; the other, an eternity of being held in the arms of your Savior. One offers flesh all that it craves of attention and affection; the other promises to kill the flesh, but breathe eternal life into the spirit. You do have a choice, friend. God has laid it out and left it precariously in your hands. “You will hate the one and love the other” (Matt. 6:24). You cannot shirk the choice because to not decide is to decide in favor of this world. “Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of this world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). And with that, the present state of the American church as it is quite clear: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” (Amos 5:21). Why? Because our churches are full of dead men. There is no revival in our hearts because we choose not to talk about what displeases God. We don’t preach so that men may know the error of their ways and repent, we preach so that men may feel justified in their sin. That message will make a man think he has no need of a Savior. What does he have to be saved from?

We bring in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny for young children and their adoring mothers. We even dress up and hand out candy on Halloween. We sell the church to rock bands Friday evening, and expect the Holy Spirit to reside in the same place we have allowed the devil to cavort. It is not that the Spirit cannot, but that the Spirit of God will not. The Spirit of God will not abide in a place ferreted out to the world six days of the week. The church thinks God has lowered His standards, but closer inspection of the Word reveals He cannot. “He is the same YESTERDAY, TODAY and FOREVER!” (Heb. 13:8).

Leonard Ravenhill once said that “The only reason we don’t have revival is because we are willing to live without it.” I would add that we are willing to live without it because we are afraid that God might reveal the darkness in us. He might call forth repentance, in which case we would have to acknowledge that we are not as righteous as we pretend to be. If revival were to fall in America, it would completely shake up the churches. Santa and the Easter bunny might have to find a new hangout among pagan temples because we would no longer welcome them in our hallowed halls. We would shut down our church bar coffee shops and stop making money of the fatigued Sunday School crew, because suddenly, Jesus’ tirade in the temple courts would make sense again. We would preach an unwavering message of holiness, “without which none shall see God” (Heb. 12:14).

The church must be willing to stand alone. We must be willing to swim against the tide, because while we talk about the direction the world is headed, we are sadly just swimming alongside our neighbors in the same direction, telling them all they want to hear because we don’t want to offend anyone. The church has taken on PC Culture as if we came up with it, but in truth, it’s the doctrine of the devil himself. Jesus did not engage in conversations in a PC manner. He confronted sin. He confronted rebelliousness in the hearts of people. Yes, he did it in love. But love is not completely disregarding the sinful nature of a lost humanity. Love is compelling people with tears to come to God. To run from sin. To avoid eternal damnation. To speak an uncomfortable truth that puts us at odds with most everyone. Our message will isolate us, for sure. It’ll be uncomfortable and we will often feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable and outnumbered. We will say, like Paul, “a great door of effective ministry has opened for me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Cor. 16:9).

We have mistakenly believed for so long that the world will embrace us. No! The world will persecute, plunder, and put us to death. That is why we are implored to be courageous. That is why we must have faith. That is why we need the Holy Spirit filling us every moment of every day. The world will forever be at odds with the church of God that is truly after His heart, because the world is in the clutches of Satan. There will always be them and us. “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval” (1 Cor. 11:19).

Choose you this day whom you will serve; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). We choose Christ knowing that it makes us enemies of the world. Knowing we face isolation and loneliness, persecution, disgrace, and everything else the world can lay siege to us because we bear that name that is above all other names. There is them, and there is me. Where are you?

Enough is Enough

Published May 4, 2016 by Dawn

Kids shooting poison into their veins

The world is poisoning their brains

When will we all stand up and say

Enough is enough!

 

The church resembles more the lost

Because we don’t want to pay the cost

In a world torn and tossed

Enough is enough!

 

We stand in rather than out

When will someone stand up and shout

It is my God I think about!

Enough is enough!

 

Where are those ready to lead?

Those called to sacrifice and bleed

To bring the world back to it’s knees

Enough is enough!

 

We hide our anguish and our pain

Terrified to speak His name

And we’ve only ourselves to blame

Enough is enough!

 

It’s time to bow in humble pleas

To our God, upon our knees

Turn the tide of this disease

Enough is enough!

 

You have been called but have you listened?

Are you seeking in submission?

The church has a commission

Enough is enough

 

Now warriors, stand up on your feet

Do not accept the word “defeat”

In Christ alone, Satan is beat!

Enough is enough!

 

There is no better time than now

To decide, to make a vow

To the dark we will not bow!

Enough is enough!

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is Near

Published March 25, 2016 by Dawn

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17)”

Repentance. It’s such an uncomfortable message. The church of today rarely utters the word. We’d rather leave people alone in their sin than suggest that there is something wrong with the way they are living. We preach a message of unconditional love and acceptance that completely disregards unrighteous living, and I’ll admit, it sounds good. It’s liberating. But then there’s this truth: it wasn’t the message Jesus preached.

Jesus. The divine Son of God. The amazing King who loved us enough to die on a cross, bearing our shame and the rejection of our Father. He stood in our place so that we could come near to God with a pure conscience. So we could reflect the holiness of our Savior. This loving God preached repentance. His message made the people acknowledge their sin. The sin nature. The nature of man without Christ. Jesus preached that message. He taught his disciples to preach that message. And they considered it a loving Word.

Here’s the truth: we will not repent if we don’t recognize our sin. We have nothing to be repentant about if everything is okay. We were delivered from our sin nature and do not have to live under it, but because we are encased in flesh, we fail. Jesus died so that we would be free from our sinful nature, and also so that we can come before God without condemnation and fear in order to repent and be cleansed. Repentance is a message of love. It’s a message of hope. It’s a message that draws people to Jesus because we quickly realize how hopeless we are without him. I pray that the church abandons the New-Age motivational speeches and gets back to the good news. That Jesus died to save us. That He died for our sins and weaknesses so that we could be pure and free in him. Not free to pursue worldly passions and pleasures, but free from the grip of sin that we would be otherwise overcome by.

Another Pentecost

Published June 8, 2014 by Dawn

Peter walked briskly through the dusty road, his hands loosely swinging by his sides. His pace let everyone around him know his was on a mission and soon, there were several following his lead. They’d seen the look of determination on his face before and knew exactly where he was going: the upper room.

Peter swatted at the fly darting annoyingly at his face, and whispered to himself, “Jesus.” He immediately felt the aggravation melt away, but his attention caught the edge of Mary’s flitting skirt and his muscles tensed with that familiar ache. He forced his face forward and whispered again, “Jesus.” He walked faster, watching his feet move through the street to avoid the constant distractions. Then a scream pulled him from his concentration and he looked up just in time to avoid the donkey barreling toward him, dragging its harried owner. Peter breathed hugely and whispered, “Jesus.”

By the time Peter made it to the upper room, he’d endured a solid hour of temptation and distraction. The name of Jesus had become like the pulse of his heart, gushing from his lips. Never had he felt so attacked … or determined. He settled himself near the window in the upper room and closed his eyes as others trickled in. They whispered in wonder, and he continued to press in despite the hissing noise that was trying to tear him away. “Jesus.”

He’d been up for hours now, unable to sleep. Finally, he responded to the Spirit calling him and he went to the upper room. Although everyone was wondering why he was there and if he had something to share, he kept his eyes closed and his mind on Christ. Eventually, they all followed suit and began to pray with him. Their eyes were no longer on Peter, no longer on each other. Like a mantra, they whispered throughout the room, “Jesus.” Time lost all meaning, and Jesus was now on their lips, now on their hearts and minds. Then suddenly, Peter felt the wind began to blow gently and peace descended on him. As the breeze picked up, he felt the strangest mixture of heaviness and lightness all at once. He opened his mouth to breathe deeply, and after one huge inhale, words began to spill forth. Strange words. Words he had never heard before, but felt from the depths of his stomach came rushing out of his mouth, accompanied by the greatest power he’d ever felt. It reminded him of Jesus.

The room erupted. Noise came from every corner. Peter opened his eyes to see fire hovering above the heads of his friends and family, and incoherence spilling from their mouths. Still the power coursed through him and he lifted his hands and refocused his mind on Jesus. Before long, he heard a huge commotion in the streets below. He looked out the window and was greeted by a thousand astonished faces. Some were snickering, some snarling, but many were simply perplexed. He heard one say, “They’re all drunk!” And those around him laughed. Suddenly, fire filled Peter’s heart and a flame touched his lips, and he leaned out the window and said loudly, “Men and women of Jerusalem! These men are not drunk as you suppose! They are filled with the Spirit of God!” The crowd instantly fell silent, listening intently to the melodic sounds coming from the upper chamber. Then one shouted jubilantly in Greek, “I know that language! It is my own!” And others throughout the crowd, who’d only journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, shouted in their language as they recognized their words spilling forth from men and women of Galilee and Nazareth. And within minutes, a great throng of people heard about Christ for the first time, in their own language and from the mouths of everyday townspeople! Peter, pulsing with the power of the Holy Spirit, became animated and began to describe emphatically the life and death of Jesus, refute the accusations and lies of the Pharisees, and proclaim Christ to the multitude. When he was finished, many walked away with something to think about. But three thousand gave their hearts to Christ, repented of their sins and were headed for the Jordan to be baptized!

**************

This is fiction, I know, but it’s on my heart today. Today is the anniversary of Pentecost. Happy birthday, church!

One thing I noticed about the church, though, is the way it’s changed over the years. It all started out as a gathering of prayer. Check out Acts. It was all about gathering with fellow believers and praying. The evangelism was a small part of the church. The prayer was as common as breathing itself. The men and women who began what we call church today were men and women without titles, without degrees, and without any other motive in gathering but to pray, exhort and encourage one another. They weren’t the most prestigious in the community, and they weren’t the pageant winners. They were the hungry, yearning for something more than what the Pharisees were doing in the synagogues.

Poor Jesus. He used to be the focus. He used to be the purpose of the church. Without realizing it, church has become so much more than it’s humble beginnings, and because of that, so much less. Miracles are no longer common occurrences, the anointing is so faint we can barely recognize it, and when we do get a healthy dose of the Spirit, we are so uncomfortable, we shut Him down and toss Him out quick so we don’t lose anyone. It seems we’d rather come in and go through the motions than wait on him in a very vulnerable, humble atmosphere of prayer. Are you still wondering why the church is incredibly ineffective in today’s society? Could it possibly be that instead of pressing in to know God and hear His heart for the world, we push in to the pews, settle our bums there and listen for the “in closing …” announcement of the pastor. Do you really think Satan would have a fighting chance in a society that has decided to pursue Christ alone? Peter saw three thousand saved one day and five thousand the next. We aren’t lacking the numbers, church. There are just as many unsaved sitting in our churches, and billions more who don’t bother with church at all. If this is war, we are the laziest, most selfish soldiers who ever enlisted.

Oh, the truth hurts so much. I’m not pointing fingers, for sure. I’m just as guilty. But for once, I’m suffering from some major motion sickness. As much as I love the gathering, the praise and worship, and the encouraging and uplifting message, I’d trade it all for some heavy anointing and glory to the degree that the only thing I can do is lay prostrate at His feet while He cleanses me, restores me and fills me up to overflowing. I’d like to be so full of the Spirit, I change the world without saying much of anything. Simply being here, walking among the hurt and the lost, and dripping the condensed power of God all over their circumstances. Not because of who I am, but because of who He is in me. Peter’s shadow healed people! Renew your works in our days, Lord!

What’s it going to take? I could be wrong, and realize an opinion isn’t worth much, but here’s mine: It’s going to take some people who are willing to admit that what we are doing isn’t working all that well. Sure, it’s cool, and it’s good for us. The Pharisees thought what they were doing was also cool and good for everyone. But was it powerful?

In closing, I’d like to say this: we all keep talking about revival and we are yearning for something more. I just wonder, what will it take for us to humble ourselves? Will it really take catastrophic events, or is it as simple as the church coming together to seek His face. Not just talk about how it’s the best thing we can do, but really doing it. Calling off the masquerade, dropping our masks and getting real with God. Losing our self-righteous veneer and getting real with each other. Humbling ourselves, repenting and turning away from the sin that we are steeped in, and seeking His face. This is how we take America back, church. Not with another program, but with another Pentecost.

When Prayer is a Fight

Published February 17, 2014 by Dawn

For whatever reason, I was really struggling to pray this evening. This seems to be happening more often as of late. Not because I don’t feel welcomed into fellowship with the Lord, but because I struggle to accept His invitation. I am very aware of my fleshly reactions lately, and I have never hated more than I hate my flesh. And it disgusts me so much, I feel like I am wearing ragged clothes into the presence of the King. Um … I don’t want to present myself to Him that way. So what do I do? Sadly, I just don’t present myself at all. I give Him like a shout out or a smile, or a look of longing, and then avoid His piercing gaze like the plague.

Then there’s the matter of all the prescribed ways to come into His presence. That’s the one that was really tripping me up this evening. I’ve read several books that tell you how to most effectively approach the throne room so that your prayers are definitely heard and then immediately answered. I’ve even done the hocus pocus described to procure favor from the King. But tonight, I just wanted to sit and talk with my Husband. Not tell Him how good He looked or how much I needed this or that, or flatter Him sufficiently to get His undivided attention. I just wanted to sit down with Him and talk. I wanted to express my heart, cry some maybe, listen to His voice of encouragement and gentle love. All the prescribed methods just weren’t in me tonight. I didn’t want to participate in the spiritual foreplay. But you know what? No book really deals with those nights when you just want to cuddle and talk … well, none that is, except the Bible.

As I was wrestling with my unwillingness to flatter God as a way of gaining His attention and favor before I could even pour my heart out to Him, my mind returned to this one phrase in the Bible repeated over and over throughout the first four books of the New Testament: “Jesus saw the crowds and He had compassion on them.”

Let me be honest here: The crowds always got on my nerves. I would read through the scriptures about how the crowds followed Jesus everywhere, begging for this and that. They didn’t want Him, or His companionship. They wanted His touch and then they’d be on their way. Like a jealous wife, I looked at the crowd as a major nuisance. I just wanted Jesus to step out of the boat into the crowd and say, “People, go home! Can’t you see we’re in the middle of something here?!” I mean, He couldn’t even mourn the loss of His beloved cousin John for too long before the crowd rushed on Him again. And you know what else perturbed me about the crowd? Their total lack of respect for Jesus. He had to hide out to get any sleep. Here I go again, all jealous-wifey about it. A man’s gotta sleep! Go home! They didn’t adore Him, or sing to Him to gain His favor. They pressed in around Him until He was backed into a boat or crammed into a house in the middle of town with no way out. And do you know what Jesus did? HE HAD COMPASSION ON THEM!

He and I are polar opposites. You can imagine my surprise tonight as I fought inwardly, both longing for Him and knowing I was not going to approach Him by way of a lie. There was no sincere worship in me. I just wanted to talk! So I sat here on my couch yearning for the Lord but unwilling to press in, and a song began to spill from my mouth: “Come just as you are. Hear the Spirit call. Come just as you are. Come and see. Come receive. Come and live forever. Come.” Come just as I am … skank clothes and all. Jesus was still willing to sit with me. Come to Him without a song … He was still willing to hear my prayer.

James scribed these words in 5:16, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” But Romans 3:10 quotes the Psalms that, “There is none who are righteous.” Do these two verses contradict one another? Seemingly so, until you take into account that this is the whole basis for the Gospel. Jesus became sin so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21)! Seems that when I struggle to approach God because of my filth, it is because I have forgotten that only because Christ’s blood covers me am I made perfect and welcomed into the Father’s presence! Welcomed! Not because of anything I do or fail to do, but because I am right with God because of Jesus.

The truth blinding me right now is this: I am one of the crowd. Sure, maybe tonight I just want to snuggle up and talk about life. But there are times I only approach Him in need, or other times when I’m watching for a miracle. Days when I just want to be fed, or even just acknowledged. And He’s always so patient with me, and full of compassion. The truth is – and He knows this, thank goodness- I’m incapable of even desiring Him without His Spirit coaxing me (John 6:44). So in truth, I am just one of the throng, pressing in to Him, begging Him daily to do something in me or through me. And for the throng He has compassion!

“And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, ardent multitudes have been crowding toward the Kingdom of Heaven…(Matt. 11:12, TLB)

 

The Cost

Published November 21, 2013 by Dawn

He sat, staring at his hands and rubbing his feet absentmindedly in the hot dust. The sun beat down on him without mercy, his cracked and peeling skin absorbing the heat and responding with rivulets of sweat. He was completely unimpressed with himself. He was actually quite sick of himself. He was sick of the sweltering heat, the itchy camel hair, the stinking bugs, the sickening sweet of honey day after day. He struggled every day to minister in the midst of hardened hearts and ridicule. John folded his fingers over his palms, placed his head on his fists and wept. His heart was torn afresh. There were not many who sought the Lord, not many who cared for John’s message. They all came to ogle and scoff. For God’s glory, John lived in a daily humility he could hardly stand sometimes. When the Spirit was on Him, it was easy. He felt in every part of himself that this, this self-deprivation and humiliation, was exactly what he was created for. He knew the sacrifice he paid was necessary. His death to self, the eating of locust and wild honey, the camel hair wrap, no place to lay his head. No comfort ever … it was all for a purpose. He could not possibly handle the call of God living in his flesh. But the dying was a daily thing, and the pressure wore greatly on John. He lived in a glorious tension of both hating and loving life.

This is what I imagine John the Baptist must have thought and felt in his lonely moments. We know that at one point, he was so depressed, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah or if there was another. John must have sometimes doubted the work he was doing for the kingdom. What John never heard was Jesus’ praise. He was absent when Jesus said to the crowds, “Among those born of women, there is no one greater than John.” And the daily derision of the crowd had to have hurt in those moments of weakness. John was, after all, still human.

Yet, the truth remains that John had been called, and he had been called to discomfort. He had been called to a life of denial and humiliation. He was not destined for greatness as the world saw it. He was considered demonic by the vast majority of the church, and really only accepted by the outcasts of society. There was little to no comfort in his life. His clothing was strange and most likely, he didn’t smell to great. He probably only ate when the hunger overwhelmed him, considering locust and wild honey was the only thing on the menu. He was a very strange, repulsive kind of man. He didn’t win people because of his good looks or money. He didn’t win people at all, really. But his message was so attractive, people pressed in to hear it. And they flocked to the desert to drink in the words that John was preaching. They walked with him into the water to display the purifying affect of the message the Spirit of God had burned on his lips.

John did not demand attention. His message did. And it wasn’t accomplished with tons of money. It was accomplished through an obedient self-denial and sacrifice. How was John able to submit to this life and calling?

I recall a verse in the Bible that could explain: “for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:43” This is obviously not true of John the Baptist. If he loved the praise of men more, he would have never submitted to that life. He would have run from it. He would have run from the call. When Jesus publicly praised John, it was a foretaste of what awaited him in Heaven.

There are many opportunities for us to seek the praise of men in this life. Sometimes, we even insist upon it, pushing ourselves into positions of acknowledgement and the limelight. But at what cost? I’ll tell you … in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus said that when you do things before men to be seen by them, you forfeit your reward from the Father. When you seek the praise of men, or jockey for it, you give up something so much more fulfilling and precious: the praise of God. That’s a hefty price to pay just to impress fickle people. The honest truth is, there is no person on earth who will unequivocally approve of you. So you may as well, whatever the cost, live for the praise of God because He can and will approve without reservation. Whatever the cost. This is burning in my heart today. Whatever God calls you to do, do it without reservation and He will praise you for it. Maybe not in this lifetime, but you are storing up treasures in Heaven. And it’s gonna be worth it.