This article is a by-product of a sermon that I recently delivered. These core values also provide the basis for the new church that I will be planting and pastoring beginning 9-25-2010 (Westside Christian Fellowship). Radio program responses have indicated that this message is timely, and relevant. I hope that you will be encouraged and strengthened as well.
1. We must recognize the desperate need for truth. Absolute truth is a hill on which to die. “A hill on which to die” is a phrase borrowed from the military. In battle, there are key strongholds that must be taken, or kept, at all costs in order to win–these are “hills on which to die.” Absolute truth is one such hill.
A weapon of destruction has set its sites on our nation, our homes, and our families. Relativism/postmodernism continue to challenge truth, but to their own destruction. Attacking absolute truth is like waging war on a lighthouse. It cannot be negotiated, bargained with, or debated. When people, groups, denominations, or movements depart from absolute truth, and thus, quench and grieve the Spirit of God, they become mechanical in their approach to Christianity and loose the ability to guide. The Word of God is not “in their hearts like a burning fire,” but relative, powerless, and debatable. This is what we see today…many are not truly worshipping God, as Jesus said, “In spirit and in truth.”
Postmodernism says, “The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. It’s arrogant to claim that you know the truth.” In reality, only arrogance can exalt one to a level that challenges God and His truth. It takes a great deal of humility to admit that personal opinions and beliefs are wrong when they oppose absolute truth. Postmodernism and relativism are nourished by pride because they value human reasoning and intellect rather than God’s Word and absolute truth.
Unfortunately, Christians who are sounding the alarm are often categorized as irrational, judgmental, bigoted, and intolerant. But how can we warn if we won’t confront; correct if we won’t challenge; and contend if we won’t question? We are not called to make truth tolerable, but to make it clear. It is a “hill on which to die.”
2. We must recognize the desperate need for love. Will others know that we are Jesus’ disciples by how well we translate the Greek? or unravel the Hebrew? or by how well we convey pneumatology, sotiology, or eschatology? Will they know by how many scriptures we quote, or how often we read the Bible? The answer is a resounding, “No”. Jesus said that love, not knowledge, is the charcateristic of a disciple, and of a spirit-filled church.
It’s possible to be “bible taught,” but not “spirit led”—straight as a gun barrel theologically, but just as empty. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This is fertile ground for modern-day Pharisees. Don’t get me wrong, we are to study the scriptures and defend the faith. I enjoy reading systematic theology (letting scripture interpret scripture), it’s essential to Christian living, but how often are we taught to fast and pray for wisdom? How often are we taught the need for brokenness and humility instead of how to dissect and translate the Greek language—more concerned about a Master’s Degree than a degree from the Master? We must equally balance truth and love.
One story stands as an illustration: “I didn’t like that our old pastor always said that you’re going to hell if you don’t repent and trust in Christ. But I do like our new pastor,” a women recently told her son. In response, he asked, “Well, what does the new pastor say?” “He says that you’re going to hell if you don’t repent and trust in Christ,” she replied. The son interrupted, “But they said the same thing.” “Yes,” she said, “but the new pastor said it with tears in his eyes.” That’s the difference…are you known as a rigid, uncaring, unconcerned, and self-righteous person? Or a person known for love, joy, peace, contentment, longsuffering, gentleness, kindness, goodness, and self-control? If not, you may be leaning in the direction of becoming a modern-day Pharisee. (I’ve been guilty of this myself.) Avoid this at all costs.
If warranted, repent, confess this wrong attitude, and “return to your first love.” (See Revelations 2:4.) God desires a broken and contrite heart–not a heart filled with arrogance and pride.
3. We must recognize the desperate need for discipleship. When God strengthens faith, He does so to help us meet the challenges ahead, to prepare us for life, and to mold us in to Christ’s image. Trying times are not intended to break us down, but to build us up. The only way to build into our lives such qualities as love, joy, peace, humility, and patience is to be confronted with situations that require love, joy, peace, humility, and patience.
How do we develop patience if we’re not tested? How do we develop forgiveness if we are never wronged? How do we develop humility if we’re never humbled? How do we develop character if we are never challenged? James 1:2-4 advises us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” “The Lord gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction” (C.H. Spurgeon). Brokenness, true brokenness, is humiliating and painful, but it strengthens faith.
Discipleship in these areas is vitally important, especially for men. Most often, the actions of the husband determine the stability of the family. If a company fails, the president is held responsible. If a team fails, the coach is held responsible. If the spiritual health of the family is deteriorating, the father…well, you get the picture.
Granted, there are men who, through no fault of their own, experience failure in their home, but for the large majority, there is a critical need for spiritual leadership. Our country is in desperate need of this. It’s generally the wife who encourages Bible study, church attendance, and prayer, while men willingly forsake their God-ordained role as spiritual leaders. There is no greater investment than investing in your spiritual growth, and in the spiritual growth and health of your family. Men, you will be tested in these areas; therefore, discipling dads so they can disciple their families should be a focal point of every church.
4. We must recognize the desperate need for holiness. Holiness is not an outdated word. It means being separated from anything that causes us to sin, whether in what we think, or in what we do. Holiness begins in the heart. “The Holy Spirit is first of all a moral flame. It is not an accident of language that He is called the Holy Spirit, for whatever else the word holy may mean it does undoubtedly carry with it the idea of moral purity” (Tozer).
In our day, the media and entertainment play a huge role in programming morality, or better stated, a lack of it. Why do so many Christians enjoy movies and programs that glorify illicit sex, witchcraft, the occult, and vampires? Incredibly, what God calls an abomination is today’s entertainment. How can this be? Simply stated: We rationalize watching and listening to very questionable material because we enjoy it; we don’t want to take a stand for holiness and righteousness. Throughout history, God’s people turned from serving Him to worshipping gods associated with lust, witchcraft, and sexual perversion.
What we watch and listen to affects the heart; it’s impossible to separate the two. Do we really think that Twilight, Wizards of Waverly Place, Harry Potter, etc. won’t affect us, or our children spiritually? Do we really believe that this is just harmless fun…entertainment with no spiritual ramifications.
Why walk willingly into the enemy’s camp? Why quench and grieve the Spirit of God? It’s impossible to develop a deep respect and desire for God if we repeatedly fill our mind with things that oppose Him. If we would make it our goal to know Christ more personally, we would preach Christ more powerfully. For example, if a Christian fills their mind with the world all week and expects the Spirit of God to speak boldly through them, they will be gravely mistaken. “The gratification of the flesh and the fullness of the Spirit do not go hand in hand” (R.A. Torrey). “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What goes in ultimately comes out. It’s time to recognize the desperate need for holiness, beginning within our homes.
5. We must recognize the desperate need for prayer. A prayer-less Christian is a powerless Christian. A prayer-less church is a powerless church. “A prayerless Christian will never learn God’s truth; a prayerless ministry will never be able to teach God’s truth” (E.M Bounds). Where are those with uncompromising prayer in the church today? Granted, there are some, and I so appreciate them, but as a whole, the church is lacking. The men, and women, who do the most for God are always people of prayer.
Need examples from the past? E.M. Bounds, who was born in 1835, began his three-hour prayer routine at 4am. To him, prayer was not a prelude; it was a priority. Edward Payson, who ministered during the Second Great Awakening, was said to have wore grooves into his hardwood floors as a result of prayer. Adonia Judson attributed his success in Burma as a missionary to a life of prayer, as did J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission. John Fletcher, one of the leaders of the Methodist movement, “stained the walls of his room with the breath of his prayers” until his death in 1785. “When faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live” (Bounds).
“Who has that much time to pray?” you may ask. Let me be frank: If you’re too busy to cultivate a prayer life that places God first—you’re too busy. We should never allow our relationship with Him to suffer because we’re too busy. We’re often too busy because we’re doing too much. “We must spend much time on our knees before God if we are to continue in the power of the Holy Spirit” (R.A. Torrey).
E.M. Bounds again reminds us: “The preachers who are the mightiest in their closets with God are the mightiest in their pulpits with men.” He continues, “Preachers are preeminently God’s leaders. They are primarily responsible for the condition of the church…how can a man preach who does not get his message fresh from God?”
6. We must recognize the desperate need for power. Unction, power, annointing, fire, etc. are all marks of true gospel preaching. “It is unction which gives the words of the preacher such point, sharpness, and power, and which creates such a friction and stir in many a dead congregations…this unction comes to the preacher not in the study but in the prayer closet” (Bounds). It’s time to restore the church to her old ways of purity, and power!
The Holy Spirit is not some weird, mystical force; He’s part of the triune nature of God. The Bible says that the Spirit intercedes, leads, guides, teaches, and so on. (Check out Romans 8:26; Acts 8:29; John 16:13.) He enables and empowers us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to boldly live for Christ, and to help others within our sphere of influence. God’s Word becomes living and active in the life of the believer who is continually filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Charles Spurgeon said it best, “What can a hammer do without the hand that grasps it, and what can we do without the Spirit of God?”
In Richard Baxter’s (1615-1691) classic work, The Reformed Pastor, he writes, “How few ministers preach with all their might or speak of everlasting joy or torment with conviction. Instead, we speak so drowsily or gently that sleeping sinners cannot hear.” Preaching, witnessing, teaching, and so on must be done with God-given authority and power to truly be effective.
I’m an avid reader of books about revivals and spiritual awakenings written by those who actually experienced them. Ironically, many, if not all, say that we must preach and proclaim God’s Word with power and authority if we are to experience true revival. The New Testament also bears this out: Without authority and power from on high, words are lifeless.
Samuel Chadwick (1840-1932) made this powerful proclamation, “Truth without enthusiasm, morality without emotion, ritual without soul, makes for a Church without power.” When God gives us power to passionately proclaim His Word, souls are converted, lives are changed, and families are restored. Sadly, this is lacking in our day. We must recogize the desperate need for power.
Stay tuned for Point 7, coming next week!
Pastor Shane’s books, articles, & radio program can be found at ShaneIdleman.com. KTLW (88.9FM) in Lancaster also features his radio program at 7am on Saturdays.