It takes no great insight to see that the world is in a state of chaos and turmoil right now. I’m not just talking political and societal, that is nothing new, although we are suddenly getting smacked in the face with it here in America where we have lived in relative peace and security until now.
I am talking about emotionally, relationally– spiritually. We all seem to be living on edge. As I write this a presidential election is about to take place that will determine the direction of our country, two radically different forms of government and economic philosophies being what is actually on the ballot. The future of the country and the church as we have known it are on the line. (Please vote!)
Even if we as a people should choose the conservative side and preserve what we have, the opposing side promises to riot, burn and loot-and they have proven they are up to the task.
We are still largely living under the thumb of a virus and the fear it’s presence has ginned up. The church and the rights we have enjoyed and taken for granted have been under blatant and outright attack and people, neighbors, families and even believers, can no longer have civil discussions as all who have an opinion that does not match your own are evil and must be destroyed. Thus we all live in fear of being attacked and cancelled from life.
And there seems to be no end or relief in sight. The long dark winter of our discontent is fully upon us and our eventual dissolution as a church and a free nation seems to be inevitable.
Except for, that one thing, that Jesus thing. We have promises, we have assurances, we have a recourse and most importantly-we have a hope.
We have a God who comes in the darkest nights, in the coldest winters, like a warrior come to rescue his children from the enemy just as the enemy thinks he has won. When all seems lost our God proves that he is indeed the Lord of Hosts and the King of Kings and no one and no thing can stand in his way or steal any of his precious lambs from his hand. He had time and again, and he will again.
The Lord goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes. IS 42:13
So, hold your head up, keep looking to your redeemer, keep the battle cry on your lips and keep your sword sharp. Our redeemer lives, and so will we.
You will receive the warriors reward–a place to raise your family and live in peace where their will be no more suffering, no more tears and no more death.
So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
Until then–remember you are more than a conqueror and no weapon formed against you will prosper.
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Acts 15:28—29
Those words from the book of Acts represent the final verdict that came out of the Jerusalem council, presided over by James as to what the Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah should do to remain in good standing. This was the extent of the religious requirements placed on those who had confessed Jesus as Lord and turned away from their demonic false gods.
The same was happening in Jerusalem where the followers of Jesus no longer supported the temple worship and threatened the power and financial base of the priests and Pharisees. Things were getting ugly, you didn’t just buck the system—not the Roman system nor the Jewish religious system—without paying dearly. The church was forced into civil disobedience as they had to choose over and over again whether to listen to God or to man.
So this called for endurance, as they were often beaten, imprisoned or worse.
Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord and there is no other way to the Father but by him” was not okay. They were constantly swimming against the current, but this just served to make them stronger. When Jesus is all you have, you learn that Jesus is all you need. And then you are fearless and unstoppable. Even your death becomes a witness that cannot be stopped and a testimony that cannot be silenced.
“You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord”
—Job’s patient endurance in the face of his misery, robbed of everything he loved by the devil himself, his health, his wealth, his children and his dignity live on as a testimony equal to none. But he refused to give in to the temptation to forsake his God and concede that maybe he was wrong about a loving and merciful God who seemed so far away in his pain. But he didn’t. He was counted among the enduring and was ultimately blessed beyond measure.
James is telling his church; ‘Don’t despair, don’t give in to the shrill voices of the deceived and ignorant who demand that you condone and accept their debauchery and corruption. Don’t succumb to their insistence that right is wrong and good is evil. Don’t sell your soul for the false peace promised to those who fall in line with the ever changing norms of a culture that has no set standard by which to measure good from evil aside from how the mob feels that day.’
Don’t set aside who you are to conform to who they demand you be. Be patient—be patient and endure.
7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.James 5
Establish your hearts, strengthen them, defend the hill on which you stand and watch and be ready for the coming of the Lord.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. James could have written his yesterday and it would all mean the same thing. God’s word is truly eternal and the enemies’ tricks are always the same.
All of this, this pressure on the early church to conform to the norms of a sick culture, should sound very familiar.
If you are trying to live by the basics of right and wrong, to honor God and his word, to abstain from the lewdness, rudeness and crudeness—from the drunkenness and the pervasive everybody must get stoned mindset that is being openly and aggressively promoted, then you will stand out like a sore thumb and you will be targeted and attacked as ignorant, judgmental, narrow minded—and deemed a threat to society.
And this is no longer just on a street level, this mindset is now pervading mayors offices, governors mansions, judge’s chambers and the halls of congress.
So this call to endure and persevere is no longer just an abstract concept that we have to manufacture perceived slights, and feign offense at whispered back biting, to relate to. It is now very real and it is being codified into law and popular culture.
Very few Christians know or care how many arrows our president has taken for the church and frankly, it is shameful that we are not more appreciative and supportive.
Is he perfect? No, he’s a Celtic barbarian from the mean streets of New York and he behaves as his blood and his upbringing dictate. But he is God’s chosen warrior, the one who stepped up, to buy his church time to repent and regroup. And we either have 5 months or four more years to do that. Trust me on that as a pastor who pays very close attention to all of this, and to what the Spirit is saying.
I don’t say this lightly because I know it will offend many people and probably cost me some readers. But, that is what happens when you speak honestly in the name of the Lord.
People who don’t cause offense don’t suffer and need no patience. But that is not us is it? If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ve learned critical thinking, how to question everything and not to accept everything just because someone else said so. And you’ve learned not to be offended by truth or challenges to your spiritual status quo.
There’s no contented stagnant pools in my church because I’m always stirring the pot with my sword to keep it fresh. I told you, and them, long ago I’m just a barbarian with a bible and God keeps challenging me to keep that straight forward—fight the enemy in front of you—spirit, while living in total obedience to my king.
Barbarian prophetic preachers don’t draw big crowds or get invited to preach in big churches. But then Jesus only had a handful of people left in his group after three years, and they changed the world—forever.
We are the fruit of their sufferings and patient endurance and we are far from done. We will endure.
I referred earlier to the only firewall between us and the true church being outlawed as sitting in the White house.
There is another firewall, a spiritual firewall, that must be built up and reinforced because the Law is only as good as the people who adhere to or enforce it. The president can only buy us time. That time must be used to reclaim this country and this culture for Jesus.
That will take patient endurance yes. It will take boldness and may involve suffering, yes. It may involve civil disobedience as we are forced to choose between obeying God and obeying man, yes.
But none of that will have a lasting or meaningful impact unless we become people of prayer.
God had shut up the heavens when ancient Israel turned its back on him and it did not rain for 3 1/2 years. It took the fervent prayers of just one man, a man who was willing to stand in the gap between blessings and curses, right and wrong, God and idolatry, and pray for blessed rain.
He alone prayed because he alone heard God speak to him, Elijah, it’s time—pray for rain.
Elijah was just a man, one with a nature like ours, who had bad days, lots of bad days, and good days. Imagine if there had been an army of Elijahs? There is, we are they.
We are the people called by his name. We are the enduring.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
“A warrior needs to be taking on the enemy in a battle that means something, not in an arena.”
A couple of weekends ago I was in our small church building trying to get the lights just right so that attendees and the camera could see the folks up front without them being blinded, adjusting monitor; trying to work the bugs out of the sound, both in the house and on the live feed, is a constant ongoing battle, the Power Point programs and the background pictures I use on the screen to enhance the message and the verses in a way that all can see them, thinking about the placement of the worship team and facilitating all of that both for those in house and the camera, the slow internet speeds and on and on.
I was trying to work through all of that when it all just kind of overwhelmed me a bit (I have no tech people) and I threw up my hands and shouted at the back wall–
“Are you not entertained?”
In my mind at that moment I was Russel Crowe playing Maximus, in the movie Gladiator holding up my blood dripping sword after having lobbed the heads off of all of my technological issues and not having any fun whatsoever doing it. In fact I was rather frustrated because it is not what I want to be doing, but it just seems necessary, expected and required.
Like fighting and killing just for show. Fighting and sometimes killing is necessary at times to protect what and who you love and cherish from harm but when it becomes a sport to be cheered it no longer serves a noble purpose.
A warrior needs to be taking on the enemy in a battle that means something, not in an arena.
Maximus was a noble warrior who is forced to fight for show. He had been a respected general leading a Roman legion, fighting against the barbarians in the north for an Emperor he loved, for what he perceived to be a noble cause, when he was betrayed and found himself in the hands of slavers and sold to a purveyor of the gladiator arena.
After having been forced to fight in several different arenas, using his extensive military experience and skill to become a money making crowd pleaser he is becoming more and more disgusted at the whole system so one day he walks into some backwater arena where he is facing six opponents by himself and he becomes a flurry of steel and sinew as all six opponents are quickly dispatched within a matter of seconds.
As the crowd sits in stunned silence at the display of efficient, no nonsense swordsmanship, Maximus turns to them and sarcastically shouts—“Are you not entertained? –are you not entertained!?”
His trainer and owner then derides him after the show for not putting on a show—”if you want to become truly famous, if you want to make it to the Colosseum in Rome, you have to put on a show, that’s what the people want.”
Maximus was right in being frustrated that he had to put on a show when the end goal was to dispatch the enemy. For the most part, those in the arena who were put forward as gladiators were captured enemy soldiers or criminals sentenced to death. A quick and efficient execution would have sufficed but they made it into a sport to appease the citizens who needed some distraction from the shortfalls of the leaders and the misery of their day to day.
And once that system, that show was started, the more they demanded and the more creative they had to be in turning killing into entertainment. And it was all about keeping the people happy and pacified.
How many pastors and evangelists feel the same way; ‘Why can I not just get up here and slay the enemy, stomp the devil and his demons and release those he has deceived and put into bondage with the sharp sword of the word of God and release the power of grace in the hearts of God’s children by the life changing, life giving Holy Spirit?’
Why the song and dance? Why the multimillion dollar gilded stadiums, the Broadway worthy stages and actors, the lighting and effects, sound and video technologies, that would make any high dollar Rock band feel right at home if they were dropped onto the stage? Why the special events and carefully planned activities that would make a cruise ship director proud?
Are you not entertained?!
We are asked to receive the word with meekness. Should it not be sufficient also to deliver the word of God to be implanted in your souls with meekness as well? Meekness means with humility, gentleness, quietness, it certainly doesn’t mean with as loud and as grand a show as you can afford or imagine.
And receiving the word with meekness means not demanding that you be entertained, that your ears be tickled, in the process. The churches feel the pressure to put on a show because the people have come to expect it, and to expect even more. —”Otherwise I’m going golfing—wait, that church on the other side of town, I hear they have an amazingly talented worship team and the drama team, Wow, they are top notch!”
Meanwhile the rest of us are just trying not to lose the remote to the PowerPoint slide show while hoping that no one trips on the mic cord to the phone we are using to try and keep our church service on Facebook, and that those who run Facebook don’t shut us down because we are preaching the whole gospel and not just the ‘aren’t we all wonderful parts.’
‘Jesus is Lord and he loves us so much that he died on the cross because of our sins. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. And the Holy Spirit is also alive and well and wants to indwell, heal and lead you, but you must be obedient to his voice and his word if you want to be used of him to make a difference. And you must be willing to get out of your comfortable little happy bubble and be Jesus to a sick and dying world because he is coming back. And then it will be too late to do all that we had put off.’ —That’s the whole gospel.
We are to be doers and not just hearers.
That’s the unvarnished, life changing, soul saving, devil slaying gospel of Jesus Christ.
What are we going to do with it? How do we become doers?
The Sheep and the Goats
James gives us the answer—get out and change the world, one hurting person at a time, without letting the world change you.
It’s the same thing Jesus told us. Who is it that he recognizes at the judgement seat as he separates the sheep from the goats? Those who remembered and visited him when he was sick and in prison, who clothed and fed him when he was naked and hungry.
He recognizes the doers, not those who were only hearers—and talkers.
And why would you not want to make a difference in this world? If you truly have the heart of Jesus, know the love and hope he offers and know the depths of his love, how can you look at those who hurt and not love them like Jesus does? And if you truly love, you will act.
I don’t blame the church for the state of apathy and spiritual arrogance. I blame the leaders who teach what they think will bring people in instead of what will truly save them from missing out on all that God has for them. For allowing them to wallow in filth.
The Holy word that was planted in your heart to the saving of your soul is also your strength and your call to cast aside “the sin which so easily entangles” (Heb) and walk in the freedom of his grace as doers of the word and not just hearers only.