Eulogy for the American Preacher

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I am sorry. I am sad to report that preparations are underway for the funeral of someone who has been, up to this point, an American mainstay: the Preacher.

I regret to inform you all that in the event of his death, there will be no open casket or even a time of visitation, as most who would have mourned his passing in the past, today would no longer much care.

For those who are unfamiliar with the preacher, his story can be found in virtually every chapter of our American history. He is seen in the first colony that landed on Plymouth Rock and you could find him shaking the windows of Philadelphia and the rest of the 13 colonies during and after the American Revolution. It was the Preacher in those days that rallied the troops and caused the swelling of national pride as he rode far and wide in the Black Regiment.

The preacher was active on both sides of the War Between the States. D.L. Moody served as a missionary on the front, finding out if dying men were saved before they perished. And in the South, the preachers would hold impromptu baptism services whenever they could, sometimes even in the midst of battle and in full view of the enemy.

America has heard the voices of A.W. Tozer and Paris Reidhead preaching a true Prophetic call. We heard the voice of Edwards, Whitefield and Ironside, Roberts and Ravenhill tell us that God was terrifying, loving and infinitely just. They would level a room with their voices expressing the holiness of God and the depravity of man. And in their voice the depraved heard the soft and tender call of the grace of God.

And yet today in America the voice of the preacher has nearly fallen silent. And I am grieved to carry to your itching ears the somber news that the voice that we need to hear now more than ever, may never be heard from again.

The American preacher, that icon of modern religion, the last of a long and noble line, has been on an unpublished endangered species list for decades. And here at the turning of the tide, at that moment when it would seem that we need him the most, his absence leaves a hole that can be felt only by the discerning heart that longs after God.

For in these days of the soft Prophet, the buddy, the encourager and the snake-oil salesman, the voice that calls you to awaken from your hyper-grace induced slumber is not welcome. Who wants to hear someone yell in a service anyway? Who in their right mind wants a return to the days of fire and brimstone when men spoke for God and called the comfortable to repentance and the lukewarm to task? Why should I repent, change, convert, awaken, give, love, serve?

Why should I give anything back in exchange for the grace that I lavish on myself, like the murderer who desperately tries to cleanse his hands under an open tap from the blood that he has just shed?

Who would want a return to those days when the church sought those who were lost, called the prodigal home and the truth searched the hearts of the un-consecrated in the sheepfold? Many eagerly await the news, it seems, that the voice of the preacher has fallen silent for good. That the one who troubled us is gone and his like shall not be seen again anymore.

But the annals of history shall reveal the terrible truth: that should we choose to let the preacher die- we choose to let the hopes of revival and indeed, the salvation of our nation die as well.

And choose it is, have no doubt about that. We choose when we do not pray for those standing between the living and the dead, calling for reinforcements in the battle of the ages. We choose when we withhold support, we choose when we do not attend meetings and we choose when we do not invite them to our churches and communities.

We choose, all of us. And that choice is to leave this nation in the spiritual hands of the mealy-mouthed purveyors of the humanistic Gospel. It is to abandon the morals of our nation to the oversight of those who will not offend the masses- so long as they continue to give. We will give over the helm to those that would abandon absolutes for post-modern questions with no answers, leadership with no authority, eternity with no certainty and doctrine with no foundation, other than the bi-polar whims of the Adonijah that stands before you.

God help us but the church has been all but usurped by businessmen who equate spiritual success with physical numbers and money. And in order to achieve that, they say nothing that may offend. When the goal is numbers and money, why stand for truth?

Who speaks for God today, the High and Holy One that does not look at crowds but individual hearts? Do we remember that He is still the One that overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple as they merchandized worship? The one who desires obedience and not sacrifice? The one who rejected the mammon of this world for true riches and told us that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his goods? Will we give over the reins of the Church to those who would attempt to crown Him with those very things that He rejected, as Tozer said?

The American Preacher is not extinct, not just yet. But he is rare enough that even spotting one deserves observance. Like the nature photographer who sees a Siberian Tiger feeding in the wild; it is not impossible but neither is it expected. And how we need him today.

God, raise up prophets once again, those who cry loud and spare not. Give us those who come to the pulpits and the streets fresh from an encounter with your Spirit in prayer. Send us those who carry in their hearts and upon their lips, hot coals from the altar of God. Give us those who are beautifully broken, who do not abuse in anger, but plead in earnestness. Give us those whose passion for you far outstrips their fear of man. Send us the Reformers, the Revivalists, the Repentant who cry for repentance, the Radicals who see no value in mere money but desire justice above all else. Send us our Whitefield and Wesley, our Edwards and Luther.

Deliver us from Adonijah and Absolom, God. And glorify yourself once again in us, in our churches, in our cities and in this land.

Spirit Filled Evangelist

We are in transition as a ministry. It has been a long, strange trip and it feels like many pieces are finally falling into place. Today, one of the final pieces rolled into place as we felt the mandate to roll power gift evangelism back to the forefront of what we do.

There is an incredible lack of Spirit filled Evangelists in the church right now, they simply do not fit in with most Pastor’s personal agendas. It could be added however that most of those Pastors do not fit in with God’s agenda.

We need a return of men speaking to communities with more of the truth of the Word and a demonstration of the supremacy of Christ and less pandering to the whims of the world system with seeker sensitive church growth methods.

We have totally lost our way, my friends, and looking for yet another new church is not the answer. Those of us that feel this to be true must transition now away from a compromised system and into one based upon the manifest power of God and confrontational truth.

How badly we have swerved away from the truth is easily demonstrated. Awhile ago, I was given a gift for visiting a church on a Sunday morning. The church was an Assembly of God and they gave us June’s copy of “Today’s Pentecostal Evangel”. Inside was an article on “The Changing Face of Evangelism” and there was a picture of Billy Sunday and some hipster that I didn’t know.

Anyway, as I read, I became livid.

The first comment that caught my attention was the following, “Gone are the days when a camp meeting was a big event in town”. I thought to myself, “Okay, that’s just an opinion. It lacks foresight but I can agree to disagree with that.” Then I read further “An Evangelist supplements by providing a particular specialty that may not be the local Pastor’s strength, such as teaching on Spirit baptism.”

Um…what?

“The Evangelist complements by teaching the people from a second voice that confirms what the Pastor has been sharing with them.”

Are you kidding me? That is the job of the Evangelist in the church, to complement the local Pastor? And this was coming from the AG! I’m sorry but I don’t know what books they are handing out in Springfield for leaders to read but apparently it isn’t the Bible anymore.

The reason that we are at a .02 percent growth rate for new conversions is because the evangelist has gone as extinct as the Dodo bird. When the people who carry the anointing and calling of God that acts as the means of grace for God to save a soul are busy confirming what a Pastor is saying, no one will be getting saved. When our evangelists spend all of their time going inside churches and no time outside of it, we are in trouble. When they must “book dates” and raise money, they cannot focus on their calling because they have become businessmen instead of prophets.

How did we ever get here?

Here’s is the revelation that we must get right now: you are besieged, church. You are trapped behind the four walls of your church by the enemy outside and the only ministry that you know is to other besieged people. You are devouring one another and defining ministry gifts by what you can do while you are besieged, not by what God had intended for us as His church!

The job of an Evangelist is not to supplement a local Pastor. The job of an Evangelist is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, in the world. But our Evangelists are not Evangelists anymore; they are travelling preachers with a career agenda and money on the brain. In fact, I don’t even think that I personally know an Evangelist other than Mario Murillo right now.

Let me lay this out for you- it is time and high time for a coup d’church; a radical overthrow of all of the things that we know are wrong in the system but do nothing about.

What is our current state, you ask? Well, let’s take the Moravian Church for instance, who at one time held a 24/7 prayer ministry for 100 years while sending out over 300 missionaries to areas unreached by the Gospel message. Today many of them doubt the infallibility of the very Word that scores of them gave their lives for in the past.

When those who should lead us have fallen into secularism and liberalism, it is time for a coup d’church.

Methodist women used to have “pray-in’s” where they all sat as a group in front of the doors of local taverns and prayed, refusing to move and refusing to allow anyone inside. Methodists used to hold camp meetings where God moved, people repented and were saved. They used to send circuit riders all over the country, covering rural areas with the good news. Today they are now mainstream and neither God nor the people move.

When the new wineskin becomes the old wineskin, unable to contain any new wine, its time for a coup d’church.

We could mention the Salvation Army or the Presbyterian Church and how far removed they are from the radical manifestations of revival in their past.

We could mention Pentecostals who now too dignified to have the gifts of the Spirit operate in public or the Word of Faith folks who took revelation from God and started commanding stones to become bread for their own use.

The list is too long and too painful for me because I love the church. But I cannot abide what a church does to people when it is based on lies, compromise and the world system.

The disease of the church is systemic and what change can come to it must come from outside of it, period.

We must take what we can from the past and never lose them while being sure to lose everything that came later as a result of the compromises of weak men. To be clear, I am calling for an outright revolt where it is deserved. I am calling for a coup in the church because they are simply not competent to lead us into the future.

Let us love them but get free. Let us wish them well but move on. Let us hold no malice but not compromise an instant longer. Let us harbor no bitterness but press forward.

The days of revival are coming, mark my words. But Saul’s armor does not fit and simply singing in the camp is not the battle that we were born for. There is no revival because the people that God has chosen to ignite it refuse to break free and seek him until he is found.

That is you.

You were born for better than this. You were placed on this planet for a time such as this, enginneered by God for the Hell you would see. But you have to be that person right now, throwing off all restraint and the chains of men. Because you are the change that you have been waiting for

Doctrinal Distinctives: Communion

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I want to write a bit here about Communion. When you deconstruct everything and look at it from a new perspective, everything must be prayerfully considered that you put back into place. We have been working on several other elements of the service and giving the folks a chance to acclimatize to the changes week by week. These are big changes, not just in the structure of services but in our Christian worldview as well. It is a lot to digest.

So this last week we began a new Communion service.

We dimmed the lights as everyone sat on beanbags and slowly began to raise the volume of the soundtrack to the evening, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2. We called it the U2charist, you know, we’ve just dressed up the Lord’s Table with a little funky flair, just to keep things relevant…

Sorry, I couldn’t help it. We didn’t do that, put down the pitchforks and torches.

Though I must admit that I had never had all that much use for Communion myself.

Most of those in my circles never had a Communion service either. It was considered to be “religion”. And religion is bad because Pharisees were religious and so if you were religious then you were a Pharisee and not really saved. So, I never had all that much use for Communion because I wanted to be saved and not a religious Pharisee. Get it?

It was just a tradition and as we all knew, Jesus told the Pharisees that “by your tradition you make the Word of God of no effect”.

And so I inhabited a world with no traditions, no ties to the past, no observances and the religion of no religion. I knew more than everyone else and I felt superior that I was so spiritual that I didn’t actually need to be obedient to the commands because in some magical mystery tour way, I appropriated by faith the truth and didn’t need the outward forms.

I mean, I got it and all. I understood the body and the blood and the covenant and whatnot. I just truly felt that so long as you understood the principle, you didn’t need to actually do it. And I am not alone, not by a long shot.

The shift in mindsets can be amazing, can’t it? In the 1600’s, Communion was a four-day event. They all fasted on Thursday, the Pastor would preach a sermon about repentance on Friday, everyone confessed their sins and was questioned on Saturday and then they took Communion on Sunday. What a change from today!

We are all the product of the teaching that Communion is an ordinance to obey, to one degree or another. For most, it is something that you should do once a month or once every six months. For me, it was also one of the driest, most tortuous events in the Church, right up there with board meetings.

To be fair, there were usually those people in the service that really seemed to love Communion and basked in the glow of His love as they went through the forms. And I am not knocking you if you are one of those. I just want you to know that secretly I thought that either you were faking it or that you were a Pharisee, just so you know.

Down to business here, we all know the drill. We get our oyster cracker and teeny little cup of grape juice. The Pastor reads the same Last Supper text that he always has;

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me”.

This is the part where you eat your oyster cracker after the Pastor says, “Let us partake”. My wife always hated that part when he said that, she always asked who talks like that except the preacher during Communion? I guess they feel like it adds depth to the event. It needs it.

Then the Pastor continues,

“After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”

Then we are invited to “partake” of the teeny-tiny grape juice cup.

And then they collect the cups and you have done your bit; you have obeyed the ordinance!

Now, I am not going to wax deep on the mystery of Communion, I will leave that to better men than I to do if they feel so led. Books can, have and should be written on the subject and I can do it no justice here. I will say however that I think that we have cheapened the whole event and by our relegation of it to an ordinance and a tradition that we simply obey, we have made it of no effect.

The key for me in the changeover to the Communion that we practice now lay in the verse; “this do in remembrance of me”. I never fully understood that verse, I mean, I know His story and I am quite sure that I won’t forget it. You know, virgin birth, sinless life, loaves and fishes…?

But I don’t think that this is what Jesus meant.

I think that we do forget Him every single day. I also think that the preparation for Communion is there to help us remember that we have forgotten Him and have followed after our own lusts, our pet sins and the omission of Him from who we are all week long.

We forget Him; we completely forget that He is there; the “resident Boss” that Watchman Nee talks about is neither resident in our thoughts nor boss of what we do.

How else could you explain the fact that the majority of Christian men view online pornography, other than they have forgotten Him? Because if they remembered that Jesus was present in them, do you think that they would subject Him to viewing that? Would they allow their eyes to be used that way, knowing that Jesus was in them at that moment?

How about the liar, who swindles people by small white lies? Has he forgotten?

What about the housewife that has not had an affair yet but peeks out the window at the neighbor and wishes? Has she forgotten? Or the church member engaged in gossip, malice or strife, what about them? How about those who split churches, lie on taxes, betray a friend? What of those who are just self-involved, self-important, self-absorbed? Have those who are so narcissistic as to believe that due to the importance of the call of God on their life that they can sow discord, church hop, destroy relationships, and never submit to any authority but their own as climb to the top, have they forgotten who they are and whom they serve?

You bet they have.

Have we all forgotten that we are supposed to be living in identification with Him, crucified with Him? That we died and the life we live, we live by the faith of Him who died for us?

We have forgotten and do forget Him every single day. And the reason that we do not know that we have forgotten him is because we live in a state of anarchy, apart from the rule of law and the heart of God, with no conviction of sin or desire to conform to His death.

And of course the Communion is stale, it is stale because we have, all of us, forgotten Him and we have become stale ourselves.

And this is what I hated, this idea that though we were so full of sin and selfishness, we still partake as if it is nothing because it IS nothing to us. The whole thing meant nothing to almost all involved. You got quiet, sure. You appeared to be reflecting, yes. But nothing happened, not in you and not in the service either. It was a function that you had to do because you were a “christian” and that is all. But that is a lie and not at all what Jesus intended. I was tired of the shallowness and deeply hungry for something meaningful and so I began to study.

So, of course, for our Communion, we again went back to the faith of our fathers.

We have the Ushers hand out small index cards and pens to everyone present. After everyone gets theirs, we ask everyone present to please take some time and write down every sin that they have committed since their last Communion. If they need to get up and walk around, so that people do not see what they are writing, that is fine. But be honest before God and confess your sins.

We then collect the cards from everyone in a single basket and hand them off to one of the Ministers. He then takes them to the front and using the microphone, begins to read off what is written down. He has been instructed that if the sin is obviously attributable to someone, he can skip it.

Everyone is uncomfortable. And you are bowled over by the sheer volume of sin that is present in the church. No different from the world, not a lick different.

We tell everyone to please bow their heads and close their eyes and then ask a few direct questions of them:

1. Do you understand that what you have committed is sin?
2. Do you understand that sin is not to have power over you as your master?
3. Do you know whom it is that you have sinned against?
4. Have you asked forgiveness from the person you wronged?
5. Have you made restitution for what you’ve done?
6. Do you repent for your sins and resolve to pursue holiness in the fear of God?

After this, we pray the prayer of confession:

Let us humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God.

Almighty and most merciful Father, like lost sheep we have strayed from your holy ways, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts as we have disregarded your holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us, as we know that you forgive those who humbly confess their faults, and that you restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to humankind in Christ Jesus our Lord; Grant to us, O most merciful God, for his sake, that from this day forward we live a godly and righteous life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.

The Pastor then asks everyone to stand and he reads over the congregation the Absolution:

The Almighty and merciful Lord grant us absolution and remission of all our sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit. If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Amen.

Our Communion bread is one loaf of bread, which the Pastor breaks, as Jesus’ body was broken. The people are invited to come forward, beginning with the elderly, after them, whole rows of people, starting with the very back. The Pastor holds out the broken loaf on his right and left for the people to take their piece from. A Minister distributes the Communion cups at the sides, after they have taken their piece of the bread.

As the people return to their seats, a brief word is given about what the Body and Blood is for and an admonishment that Communion is the renewal of covenant and the fresh decision to identify in His death, it is submission to the process of God which crucifies our flesh and conforms us to His life. It is the fresh stamp of the Imago Dei on our hearts.

After this, we begin our Lovefeast.

Battlelines: The Wal-Mart Church

So, I have watched as the church has transformed over the last 21 years. Actually, it has been even longer than that because I have been around some aspect of the church my entire life. When I was growing up, it was in a small Pentecostal church in Pennsylvania. The church was never large, that was not even on the radar in those days. The question was one of effectiveness, not numbers.

If someone were getting saved, delivered or healed, the church was a success. They might struggle for finances or stay in the same building for 30 years without anyone raising the question of whether or not they were supposed to be there. If God was present, that closed the issue.

When I was first saved, it was pretty much the same. In fact, if you were a big church it probably meant that you had compromised something vital in order to get the numbers up. The focus was still not on size but rather quality of ministry, purity of the Word spoken and effectiveness in evangelism.

Back then there was still street ministry and witnessing that took place, imagine that. And a preacher could still get a crowd if he came to town. If you spit hard enough you would hit an evangelist in shiny shoes. True story. I began my ministry as an Evangelist, first on the streets and then travelling from town to town.

Then Swaggart and Bakker happened. Suddenly, being an Evangelist was linked to money and televangelist flash and it became one of the least popular professions in the country. Pretty soon, you couldn’t find an Evangelist to save your life, unless it was in Africa. Everyone here in America started being “teachers” (during the Word of Faith craze) and then later “prophets” (during the prophetic movement).

Today we just have a hole where a foundational gift to the church used to be.

During these years we also saw the rise of the monster named Rex Walmartasaurus in corporate America. They would plant one of these stores in a town and slowly drain the life from all of their competition. First it was the competition in the city falling by the wayside as Kmart, Shopko, Sears and many others started to tank. Wal-Mart offered everything and they offered it cheaper than everything else. And in a culture addicted to convenience, having everything available in one great location became like crack. Soon, small mom and pop stores had to start shutting the doors because they simply could not compete with the Wal-Mart juggernaut.

Even in the town where we live, prices are dollars higher per item in our local store than at Wal-Mart. And in a slow growth economy, who is going to drive around looking for different items when Goliath has everything right there at your fingertips.

So, small stores in small towns have been forced to adapt in order to survive. The only way to do that is by carving out a niche as a boutique and offering super specialized items that can’t be found at a big box store.

Get the picture? Our small towns have become bedroom communities as our industry moved to big cities and then our commercial businesses got smaller and more restricted in order to stay afloat. The big box dominates all and a person is hard pressed to start a business and prosper by offering goods and services to their own town. Everyone drives 30 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart rather than pay higher prices for a smaller selection.

The same is true in the church and the changes took place at the same time.

Today, you have mega churches (where God is interested in what they are doing), upper-middle sized churches (that are on their way to being mega) and the small churches serving communities (where God ignores them because they are too small, because if you are from God, you gots to be big, baby).

The mega church offers everything: campuses designed to look like city streets with shops, bookstores, jungle gyms, Kids areas designed to look like castles, programs for everything from singles to the Latvian Lesbian midget support groups. Everything is right there at your convenience and you can rest assured that the teaching is good because the preacher is on TV, which is a sure sign of personal integrity, dedicated prayer lives and orthodox teaching. These are the Wal-Mart’s of the church world. Everyone from the area goes to these places because they can be anonymous, catered to, they are offered convenience and the chance to be a part of something big.

The mini mega church is like the Target chain. They have some of the good stuff, just less of it. But they really want to be a Wal-Mart and so they adapt to whatever Wal-Mart is doing. Ambition drives these churches, usually helmed by a preacher who is certain that he is the next big thing. They have all of the things that it is going to take to break the ceiling and become big and solidify what they have always known: they are from God (I am big! You like me, you really like me!).

At the same time that the fight for growth is occurring, you have those that don’t really matter laboring on anonymously inside of a small church. These churches are like bases in baseball where all of the church hoppers, ne’er-do-wells, dysfunctional elites and know-it-alls have to make brief stops before quitting the system altogether. They are usually hampered by a lack of finances, a lack of devotion, an overabundance of tourists and the crushing weight of ineffectiveness and obscurity.

Now, let me ask you; is this the way that it is supposed to be?

The answer that we need isn’t as simple as some would have us to believe. It is not a matter of the first church having met in houses and so we should meet in houses too. Because near as I can tell, church buildings and houses both have walls, floors, ceilings and windows. They are both buildings, Copernicus. The reason that the first church met in homes was because it was illegal to be a Christian, the synagogues (where they preferred to meet) were closed to them and they couldn’t build a temple.

No, the answer isn’t about location, style or format; it is all about motivations.

Why are any of us doing this? Is it to get rich or famous? If it is, go sit in the back of the bus.

Is it to fulfill our own ego by equating ministry success with personal worth? Go to the back of the bus.

Is it to control people and build a cult following? Sorry, back of the bus for you.

God needs a people that are interested in effectiveness rather than notoriety. We need to change our definition of success so that the question of God’s glory is included somewhere. We need to stop basing our determination of spiritual success on material possessions. And we need to start counting bodies healed, lives changed, hearts melted, lives repenting and salvations occurring as the primary gauge of ministry effectiveness.

We as ministers must start speaking the truth in love with boldness, no matter how large the congregation that God has us serving. We must hear from Him alone as to what He wants our branch of the government of God to be doing.

We must act as ambassadors, regardless of the region that we serve. We have to care for the poor, shower the region with common grace, preach boldly so that the elect hear the message and respond and change the spiritual temperature where we live. Bringing the Kingdom of God to where we live and making that area resemble heaven- that is our calling.

It has nothing to with the flesh, with numbers, with money. And many big time preachers sitting in big time churches are going to be in big time trouble when they approach the Bema and find out that God was more interested in how they treated a little obscure pastor or how they overlooked the poor and hurting than in how big of a building they built to house their congregation of spiritual pygmies.

Have you been reading the red and the book of Acts like I suggested in the last article? Then you should be ready for this next bit.

You will not find success in Christ by buying into the Wal-Mart doctrine. It isn’t through being clever or different that you will see numbers go up. That is the boutique mindset and it can only survive, not thrive. You won’t find personal fulfillment by chasing mega churches or mega preachers either. You will only find success as you get back to basics, shun the system, leave the camp and seek God. See, I have news for you preachers- numbers are no gauge as to God’s favor because it can be counterfeited. No, God’s favor comes through the fire, through prayer and through the breaking of a man until he resembles the Christ that he serves.

I want you to start acting today as if your life is under the hand of sovereign arrangement. Every person that you talk to, every setback that you experience, every temptation, trial and tribulation that comes your way has a hand behind it. The true quality of your life and ministry will be measured by your responses to the acts of God’s sovereign arrangements and by nothing else.

Many of the things that we do for God will not matter at all because they did not originate in God but in ourselves. But our responses to the things that have their origin in Him, they will mean everything.

So, forget the hype and the hoopla, the game and the boy’s club. Instead, consecrate your life to him, ask for the wisdom to see his sovereign arrangements and then live those moments as you saw Jesus live and teach about and the first church carry out. Being big isn’t important, being faithful and pure is.

Battlelines: The Preamble

Revolution is about the overthrow of one system for another. In the course of time, two ideas that once co-existed have finally become diametrically opposed to one another. At the outset of revolution, one side remains entrenched in power while the other side actively seeks to supplant it. This is revolution, friends, and never mind what the commercials tell you or what the trendy youth group says that it is. Revolution is messy, divisive, chaotic and uncomfortable. Real revolution is never pleasant; the two different sides will dig in and defend their positions, violently if necessary. This was just as true for David and Saul as it is in our day. When God begins to do a new thing, the old thing starts chucking javelins.

Today we find ourselves in a pre-revolutionary period in the church. All of the pieces are in place if you look for them. They are sitting there, simmering just under the surface, waiting for a spark, a move, a shot across the bow that will send the mighty wheel of revolution turning. This is the calm before the storm, that moment when détente is being practiced by diplomats and people are seeking ways to build a compromise that will leave everyone happy.

But there will be none of that. The gulf between mindsets is too far apart now. The ideas and ideals of the two parties can’t be brought together. Saul knows that David is the next thing, his kingdom is coming to an end and his only legacy will be a cautionary tale of humanism, corporatism, gimmicks and the substitution of the real for the gimmick.

It is my experience that people generally do not want to hear this truth. That is especially true in our world today. What we want instead is a series of affirmations that what we think, feel or do is right. We seek churches that will do this, ministries that will do this and read books that do this. When we hear that something that we have been believing is wrong, we immediately get defensive, it is just our humanist nature, I guess.

The history of the Christian church is one of progressive revelation. At times the church has forgotten this and tried to introduce something that had no basis in what God was previously doing. The result of this is always the same- error, heresy and shame. The Protestant church of the 20th century bears no similarities to the church of the 19th century. The Pentecostals have lost Azusa and the Methodist church only resembles Asbury and Wesley in name only. The Salvation Army has become thrift stores without salvation, an army of retailers and not revivalists. The reformed churches have forgotten Calvin and Knox while the Presbyterians have forgotten Red River.

We have forgotten who we are and have simply started just making things up that felt good to our flesh. But God instructs us his people line upon line, precept upon precept. The revelation of the previous generation becomes your foundation and God then adds to his grand story with the lines of your age.

Like all true revolutions, this one will occur when we make a decision that no matter what, we must get free or die. The disease of the church is systemic and the only ones that support what it has become are the fat cats that profit from it. For the rest of us, we cannot live in the system as it is set up and we can tolerate no compromise with it. And so we, like Moses, must leave the camp and seek God where he is.

The fault of where we find ourselves today can be laid at the feet of a few trends that have become the norm in the last 40 years or so and an older worldview that has infected us to our core. Let me be clear, these methods and worldviews have nothing to do with the progressive revelation of God but are rather compromises with the spirit of the age. And we must begin to see them as exactly that- a hindrance to revival and in enmity with God.

  1. The church growth movement with its emphasis on numbers and money as a gauge of success.
  2. The pragmatic mindset that excuses any gimmick, fad or phase as being from God if it works to appeal to the flesh of men.
  3. The corporate mindset that tells us that we should grow real big and offer everything to everyone, like Wal-Mart, then franchise our product all over. This mindset has caused the exact same “big-box store versus boutique” phenomenon in the church as it has in the world marketplace.
  4. The individualistic mindset that constantly focuses all attention and energy on the all-powerful ME.
  5. Finally, the humanistic mindset that places the highest priority on man and his existence rather than on God and his eternal glory.

This is American Churchianity. And like seeing an embattled and aged Ali sitting ringside at a boxing match, everyone knows what you used to be and pities what you have become.

God willing, this is the start of a new series that will begin to look at each of these things in detail and offer the alternative. What you do with this is up to you. I would encourage you to read what is written, prayerfully consider the implications and then commit yourself to the revolution with wild abandon.

No Price, No Power!

One day in the early sixties my mother was making a big chicken dinner in the kitchen. After working for hours she was nearing completion when the Lord began to speak to her. He said “Take the dinner down to sister so-and-so.” My mother began to protest telling the Lord that she had been working on it all day and was about to set the table. The Lord’s answer to her was to “take the dinner and also give her ONE DOLLAR.”

She had a little money and expressed this to the Lord, letting him know that she could give her some money instead of the dinner and a dollar but the Lord again told her to take down that dinner and only one dollar.

Finally she quit arguing and put everything into a large pan and walked it down the street to where this sister lived. This woman was a single mother with three small children and had no visible means of support. When she knocked on the door she handed the woman the meal and explained to her that God had told her to bring it down. The woman began to cry and explained that they had come home from church and there was nothing to eat in the whole house so they all had began to pray for God to send in some food from somewhere.

After she had explained, my mother handed her the dollar bill and told her that God had said to give her just one dollar, though she didn’t know why. The sister, in tears, told her that someone had just given her ten dollars for the rent and she had gone to God and asked, “But God, what about the tithe?”

This was the normal Pentecostal experience during those days. People did not just live nice little Christian lives, attend a church where the smooth talking Pastor delivered clever little sermonettes and everyone gave to missions once a year. They all to one degree or another had a faith walk; they heard from God for others in the church or community, believed for miracles in their everyday life and experienced God first-hand for themselves.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit were in operation in the meetings. There would be tongues and interpretation, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge at normal services given by normal people. Today most of the church doesn’t dare do that, there are too many crazy people who may say something wrong. There are too many variables to just allow the Holy Ghost to move freely. And so for the most part there are no gifts in operation in the church anymore. You can’t even tell whether some churches are spirit-filled or not by their normal services, that part of their religion is saved for those times when the general public is not around- we would hate to offend them, you know.

There were certain preachers that God used in Sign-Gift ministry across the country. Men like Jack Coe, A.A. Allen, Oral Roberts and William Branham shocked regions with outrageous displays of God’s power. God was moving all over the nation and faith was evident from the biggest tents and arenas to the smallest church out in the Johnson grass area of town. Miracles happened regularly in these meetings, unlike today. The deaf heard, the blind received their sight and the crippled arose and walked.

And then something happened, something quite subtle and yet the effects of it would change everything in under a decade.

For years, the Pentecostal faith was the domain of the poor and ignorant. In fact, to be a Pentecostal carried with it a stigma that you just could not shake. If you were Pentecostal, you were a religious fanatic, a hillbilly with religion. And they were indeed a peculiar people, from their hair cuts to their dress and their obstinate refusal to conform to the world around them. I can remember being ashamed of them when I was in school, not wanting anyone to know that my family attended “that” church.

I can remember driving to church on Sunday nights and having to take coloring books, some cars and a blanket and pillow “just in case”. And ‘just in case’ ended up being the case more times than not. At some point during the course of the meeting, the Holy Ghost would come in and you knew that you were not getting home before midnight at least. Now let me clarify that these people were not engaging in “soaking” services, this was a full-on Holy Ghost encounter that swept the entire congregation into it.

Things like this soon attracted the attention of those who wanted a little more of God but didn’t want to leave their respectable churches. So, at some point it was decided that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was not just the domain of the poor and ignorant. The charismatic movement opened the doors for anyone to get it, regardless of how they lived. Soon, old dead denominations were experiencing the outpouring for themselves.

I will risk offending some here with my observations and opinions; after all, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.  I would lay the blame for today’s apathy and complacency in the church squarely on the shoulders of this middle-class Charismatic movement.

Now, lay the stones down for a moment and hear me out.

The Pentecostal church had been historically made up of low-income families and those who were generally uneducated.  When the Charismatic movement hit, the spirit and power of Pentecost was introduced to that segment of society that would never have attended those sorry churches out in the Johnson grass area of town.  Now, they would of course, call the pastors of those poor Pentecostal churches when they needed to get a prayer through to God.  But they would not attend themselves; they would not risk their reputation by attending a church that was full of the poor, the uneducated and the second or third generation welfare families.

With the introduction of the Pat Boone Christians in LA, sitting by their pools and having Bible studies—everything changed.  Now Pentecost was available to everyone—regardless of their income.  Certainly that is not a bad thing.  The Holy Ghost should obviously be in whatever church wants Him.  However, that was not the only thing that occurred.  These middle class believers now had their nice homes; their two-car garage and they were speaking in tongues.  But something had disappeared: the cost of following hard after God.

Suddenly the baptism of the Holy Spirit became convenient.  It cost you nothing to get it; in fact, they soon began conducting classes on how to do it quickly and painlessly.  The great fault of the Charismatic movement is in its foundations.  Mix believers who have given up nothing for God and have no fear for Him with the silence of God towards their brashness and irreverence and you have a recipe for the church today. You see, suddenly, you could speak in tongues and have money too.  You could attend a stylish church with beautiful decorations and cute names like Family Fun Church.  In the end, the great difference between Pentecostals and Charismatics became an income bracket. The Charismatics were simply too well bred to call themselves Pentecostals.

They packaged the baptism and then proceeded to streamline its power into a soft, tasteless paste that you could spoon feed your weak neighbors and friends with.  The scandal of being a spirit-filled believer was lifted.  Now, here it was, just like Burger King—your way, right away.

I remember the old Pentecost though.  I remember those families that everyone laughed at for attending the Pentecostal church.  These were dirt-poor believers coming to God because truthfully, they had nothing else and no other hope in the world.  And friend, there is a difference in the prayers of one who has God as an addition to their lives and the ones that have nothing but God in their lives. I have seen both sides, lived among them and tasted of their lives. And I can say with utmost sincerity that what has been produced with the manifestations of the Holy Ghost in Charismatic circles is the direct result of treating God as a hobby.

Don’t get me wrong here; I am not saying that you need to be poor to be a believer.  What I am saying is that the difference is that those who are poor have nothing to distract them from God.  They are not concerned with social standings or what their neighbors will think.  As someone once said, “The most dangerous man in the world is the man who has nothing left to lose.”

It was those early seekers who caused the greatest surge in new believers in the history of the world, those poor people who had nothing in their pathetic (or so it seemed) lives but Jesus.  From the time the fire fell in Azusa at the turn of the century until the late sixties, early seventies, the spirit filled church rose from a handful to hundreds of millions worldwide.

That makes it the second biggest religious group in the world, second only to the Roman Catholic Church, who you may note, had 1700 years to bring their numbers to where they are today.  Standing in stark contrast to this is the numbers on church growth for the last 30 years.  According to George Barna, almost all of the new church growth in that period of time has been due to transfers from other churches rather than new conversions.

As I look across the panorama of the American Spirit-filled churches, I generally do not see those who are centered on Jesus in every aspect of their lives.  Sadly, I see more oftentimes those who live a nice Christian life within the confines of what society dictates as being acceptable.  There is not a casting off of the kingdoms of the world and the glory thereof; instead we preach that there is nothing wrong with having both.

Where the disciples were commanded to forsake all and follow, we are told to come to Him and gain it all a hundred fold with you tax-deductible gift.  Does God want us in the church to prosper?  I believe that He does.  Does God want that to be the sole thing that we seek Him for?  Does God want this to be the very center of our relationship with Him?  I think not.  Does God want us to be preaching sermon after sermon on feeling good, getting rich by faith and singing “Money cometh”?  Get serious.  But that is the type of believers that we have become, not only in the eyes of the Father but in the eyes of the world as well.

We have become in many regards, shiny shoed snake oil salesman who are seminary trained—not to forsake all and suffer redemptively for the sake of the kingdom—but rather as church builders and public relations marketing specialists with a degree in politically correct fakeness.

It’s so sad to me to enter into a church and instead of feeling love and the power of God present to deliver and heal the sick, I am confronted with building funds, sermons on how to prosper in ten steps or less, mid-week believers meetings held in the basement when you can be taught to speak in tongues and a slew of propaganda that firmly places the pastor in the enviable position of being “the next big thing”.

If that is something that appeals to you, more power to you, I guess.  Give me something different.  Give me a building with one light bulb hanging from the ceiling and no air conditioning on hot summer nights that is filled with people desperate for God.  You can keep your programs and workshops; give me those who know how to pray and who stay at the altar until the glory falls.

Give me those who would rather tell their neighbors about Jesus than get their approval.  Give me a praise band that may not be professional musicians but mean every single note they play.  Give me a tent filled with mosquitoes and people under the power who couldn’t care less about them.  Give me those who can’t sleep at night because they are so burdened with those lost in their city.  Give me those and keep the rest. 

You do not need to be poor to be a Christian.  But I know from experience how much all of the things that money can buy serve to distract us from God.  It is not a question of whether or not money is wrong or harmful.  It is a question of priorities—what do you love more?  Do you love God enough to praise Him when the car is being towed away by the bank?  When there is no food to put on the table and the children are hungry?

Or is your love for God conditional?  Is it based on how easy your life is at the moment?  Because when you strip away all the things that you possess and all that is left are you and Jesus, that’s where the rubber meets the road.  I believe that God wants to bless us abundantly.  But I also believe that He wants us to be the kind of people that money has no chance at all of becoming an idol in our lives.

There is really no sense in pursuing a discussion on real revival until we deal with some of these issues.  Because the simple fact is that the greatest move of God the world has ever seen will not come at a cheap price.  You will not be able to run down to the latest hotbed of religious fervor, rub elbows with the attendees and take it back home.

It will come with the tearful prayers of those who are committed to the idea that they simply must have a real move of God lest they die.  Those who would rather not live at all then to live a fake life filled with superficial religion and lukewarm mediocrity.

Now you must ask which camp it is that you belong in.

In the end it is not a question of whether you are strictly Charismatic or Pentecostal, it is a question of the level at which you surrendered your life to God. Was it a conditional surrender, based on the promises that you would be treated well? Or were you one of the lucky few who surrendered unconditionally, who had the audacity to tell God “I am yours, no matter what it costs me, no matter what life hands me, I am yours.”

That was the key to the early Pentecostal movement and that was the Achilles’ heel of the modern Charismatic movement- desperation, consecration and the full surrender of your life.

All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power;
let thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;
now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!

I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

A Body In Motion

I get tons of questions about our stances for the Lord, usually revolving around why I seem so darn angry. The majority of church folks just don’t see things from our perspective and it is easy to dismiss how I am or what I say as being “angry”.

Perspective is everything, it really is. For example, if you see a couple from behind walking down a street, him holding her close as they make their way down a dark section of town, you may assume that they are a couple and he is holding her protectively. However, what if you saw them from a different angle and saw that he was holding a weapon to her side? Why, your perception of the event would change and so would your reaction.

Or perhaps you see someone walking down a hallway and all of a sudden, they start pawing the air and wiping their face crazily. You might assume that they are a nut job and determine to stay as far away from them as possible because no human in their right mind would ever act that way. Of course, from a different perspective you might see that they had just walked into a cobweb hanging from the ceiling.

In older days, you could safely assume that if a Watchman on the wall cried “Danger!” there was a good reason for it. But in this crazy world that we live in, we simply do not trust anyone, especially Bible thumping preachers. It is almost as if we honestly believe that we can determine our own reality by choosing what watchman we listen to. If we don’t like the cry of warning coming from the south wall, we just choose to listen to the watchman at the west wall, who may or may not have the same field of view as the one raising the alarm. Or worse, he just may not care.

Today in America, any watchman who cries a warning is immediately marginalized and ignored. We prefer our watchman to build us up, telling us of our safety and of the good times that lay ahead. Those who cry loud and spare not are told that they are angry and are judging. Then they are left to starve out as all of the supply goes to the (un)holy windbags spouting worldly virtues and being nice.

Nice will not help us now, church.

Today we sit here in America with the economy in the tank, the world around us getting progressively worse each day as it revels in the godless lies of secular humanism and the signs that warn us of what is to come are growing louder and louder every single day and the church is still asleep in its ease. Now more than ever, you would think that someone would be raising the cry of alarm and waking the church. But the church sleeps on.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force. The church will not turn itself, my friends. Even the laws of the universe that God designed point to this fact. No, the disease of our church system is systemic; it affects the entire Body and not just one part. And every new teaching, every sissy men’s group, every seeker-sensitive church plant, every compromise of the truth used to gain new members, every silly television preacher simply giving the people the candy everyone wants, leads us further and further into the darkness. And every sign points to the church remaining safely on course, straight to oblivion.

We discard every voice of dissent that is raised and surround ourselves with voices that tell us those things which most closely line up with our personal theology. This is because in the end, we want to be proven right in what we believe. We don’t want to know the truth so much as we want to be right. We buy the books, attend the seminars and listen to the sermons of those who most closely align with our personal views. We attend the church that makes us comfortable, builds us up, and has the proper social standing. But most importantly, the church must align with our views. We never even consider aligning ourselves with God’s word instead.

To make matters worse, the church has been infiltrated by a spirit of Korah (Numbers 16:1-35). This spirit has crept in and spread its poison among our ranks, rendering much of the church ineffective and offering strange fire in the name of the Lord. It has whispered in our ears, “There is no clergy and laity, no difference between any of us; we are all called, all anointed and all able to do the work.” And how good this sounded to our ears in the church, how enticing to hear that we were all equal and therefore, we did not have to submit to any man at any time. How wonderful it was to our itching ears to hear that we didn’t have to listen to the watchman on the wall anymore! And as we rejoiced in our man-made democracy, the enemy laughed because he knew, above all, that when you smite the shepherd, you scatter the sheep.

And so he has and so it has been done. A body in motion will stay in motion, church. Once it begins, it cannot change its path nor slow its speed on its own. Any change that comes to it must come from outside it.

The second law of motion states that if an unbalanced force acts on a body, that body will experience acceleration (or deceleration), that is, a change of speed or direction. In order to change the speed or direction of a body in motion, there must be some unbalanced force acting upon it. It cannot be a balanced force because if the outside force is heading in the same direction at the same speed, it changes nothing. So, it must be coming from a different direction or a totally different speed. And that is you and I, my friend.

You see, while the enemy tried to convince us that something was wrong with us, that we were out of step and out of time, we were right where we were ordained to be. His only hope that the path of the church would remain unchanged was in aligning us with the church. He used guile, shame, a desire to belong and pressure from those around us to try and attain this goal. He starved us out, causing finances, prayers and support to be withheld. He told us that if we were truly called to do what we were doing, wouldn’t there be more fruit? And so many listened, so many joined the great calf brain of the church and began singing the same song that it has appeared that there was no hope of ever seeing any real change occur. But God… Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts. Step up, step out and apply all of the pressure to the church’s direction that God has placed within you. You are the outside force, the unbalanced force that God is using to steer the Old Ship of Zion back on course. Don’t you despair, you are not alone, my friends, you are right where you need to be.

Just be the change.