Monday, February 28, 2011

God's favor

It seems that in our society today there is much talk about "the Lord's favor." Depending on who you listen to you would think that the best evidence of having the Lord's favor would be a bank account that is overflowing and perfect health. There are several problems with this not least of which are that it is not completely Biblical and it doesn't match up with reality. For instance, I have some friends who are missionaries in a foreign country and they are some of the most godly people I know. They seek after the Lord's face and will with all of their hearts and have devoted their lives to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they have sacrificed a comfortable life in the United States because they have felt the unmistakable call of God to minister to lost people in the world. From what I understand and have seen with my own eyes, they live a very modest lifestyle and often have less money than they really need. Now according to some of the "gospels" that are circulating in our culture today they would not be living with God's favor. However, if you asked them they would say that they are right in the midst of God's will for their lives and that He provides for them in various ways and sees to it that they are taken care of at every turn. Also, it would behoove us to take a cursory look at the life of the Apostle Paul. Here was a man who had a radical encounter with the Living Christ and spent his life enduring all kinds of trials, troubles and tribulations for His Name. In fact, none of the early apostles died living in the lap of luxury and most of them died horrific deaths. The same could be said for Christians throughout the world in 2011 who put Christ ahead of their own lives and comfort.

Regarding this subject I would like to offer you these words from Psalms 41:11 that I read this morning, "By this I know that You are pleased with me, Because my enemy does not shout in triumph over me (NASB)." To me this is a powerful example of how we know that God loves us and we are found in His favor, our enemy does not triumph over us. Listen also to the familiar words of Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Now, hear what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has to say in Luke 4:8-19, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach the Gospel to the poor, He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord." It should be perfectly clear that the single greatest evidence of God's favor is that He has saved us. We need no other evidence and no other blessing on top of that simple, unbelievable fact. God's favor is wrapped up in His Son and what He did for us on the cross, not in these other things that we demand from God as evidence of His love for us. The God of the universe is required to do absolutely nothing for us, NOTHING! Yet, He not only allows us to live in His creation, He sent His Son to die for us so that we could live with Him forever in Heaven. On the cross Christ defeated our true enemy once and for all. The root of all of our problems has been dealt with through His blood. Victory is His and He then gives it to us. But we say there must be more evidence that God cares for us. He must do more than give us eternal life and victory in this life. Do you want to know if you are experiencing God's favor? I will answer that by asking this, has He saved you? If the answer is "yes" then you are in God's favor and incomprehensible grace. If the answer is "no" then I want to tell you that He offers His favor through His Son, Jesus Christ.

I want to say this in order to head off any potential questions. Yes, God does choose to bless people with riches and health and all kinds of other things. However, He does it so that we might bless other people with what God has given us. He doesn't do it to prove to us that we are in His favor, the proof is on the cross and the empty tomb, none other need be offered. In any case how could any other proof compare? He does it so that His power can be seen in our lives by other people. We often look at people who do not use a God given talent and think about how it was wasted. The same can be said for anything God gives us. If it is not used to bless others and bring Him honor and glory it is a waste. God's goal in this world is not to shower us with blessing just for the heck of it. He showers us with blessings so that His kingdom might be increased and so that people will be drawn to Him because it is His will that none should perish but that all should have everlasting life.

I will close with these two final points.

1. Never think that because you are not wealthy and perfectly healthy you are not receiving God's favor. Look to His Word to determine your position with Him. God delivers on obedience and faithfulness and to be obedient and faithful we must know what He says in the Bible.

2. I will ask this question: What are you doing with the things God has blessed you with? Are you turning around and blessing others and using it for His kingdom? Or are you hiding it under a bushel?


Saturday, February 26, 2011

On the verge.

Over the past several months there seems to be a renewed feeling that a mighty move of God is on the way. It would be one thing if this was just something that I felt in my own heart and mind but from conversations I've had and things I've read this is a sense that many Christians in various places share. I fear there is some belief among Christians that the idea of "revival," as we used to think about, it is a thing of the past. That is, people believe that the days of large Crusades a la Billy Graham are behind us and that the US, or even the West in general, is beyond revival and renewal. Honestly, I couldn't disagree more. I believe that the book is not closed until the glorious return of Christ and that, if we are drawing near to that time as many think we are, God has at least one more great move in store for the world. Of course, there could be hundreds or thousands of more years between now and when Christ comes again but whatever the case may be I don't think He is going to return to a weak, lukewarm, Church.

What I have found in many of my conversations is that when I share with people about N156M and how we want to see the Church renewed, revived and returned they are saying things like, "You know I've felt like God has been preparing us for revival recently too." I've talked to many pastors who get this same sense and they are actively trying to prepare their congregations for whatever God has in store. For instance, I was talking to a pastor about a conference that we are holding in April on revival and spiritual awakening and he told me that there is a group of people who meet Monday through Friday at noon to pray that God would heal our land and send revival. Here's the really amazing part. They don't meet in a church or at someones house, they meet in a Yamaha shop in downtown Albemarle. For the past two weeks I've been going regularly to this prayer meeting and it is such a special time of prayer and sharing God's Word. When the owner of the shop talks about why he does this you find out it is something that God laid on his heart at the beginning of the year and he doesn't know what God has in store but he just wanted to be obedient. It gets better still. Last week one of the regular prayer warriors brought a friend who wanted to get saved! So right there in the office of an ATV and watercraft store this man accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and Lord. Later on someone said, "Maybe this will turn from a prayer meeting to a getting saved meeting, who knows."

Just from that example I would like to offer a simple model that I believe is Biblical and can serve to help us understand at least one of the ways God operates (we can never understand completely). Simply put it is: obedience, revival, awakening. When we step out in obedience to God and His will for our lives He will renew us spiritually. When we become renewed then the natural outflow of that is evangelism and seeing people come to know Christ, which is awakening. We see this in the book of Acts and the situation at Pentecost. After initially being afraid and hiding in the upper room the disciples became obedient to God's command to go and share the Good News. This lead to their spiritual renewal and ultimately thousands were saved and people were added to their number every day.

The bottom line is this, if we want to see God move in a mighty way we must start with obedience. This goes for us as individuals and as a body of believers. There is no sense in expecting a world that rejects Christ to suddenly start following Him without a great spiritual awakening. As my pastor likes to say, "we shouldn't be surprised when lost people act lost." However, if we begin to follow God in obedience He will revive us and then we will be in a position to be used by Him to bring the lost to Him. In this day we can't expect that all of this will be done within the confines of the church building. Whether it is in a Yamaha shop or a coffee shop or someones home or the parking lot of Wal-Mart, God's movement has no bounds. Furthermore, I do not think we should expect that this will be localized as revivals have been in the past. Here is  link to a short article on how God is moving in California.

We are in North Carolina, they are in California. That represents both ends of the United States and I would be willing to be that the winds of revival are blowing in places in between and beyond. I do believe that we are on the verge of a great renewal but, as I've told many people, it is going to be up to us how we respond and whether or not we take part in what God is doing.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: Fresh Encounter: God's Pattern for Spiritual Awakening

Book details: 
Title: Fresh Encounter: God's Pattern for Spiritual Awakening
Author(s): Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby and Claude King

The first thing that I want to say about this book is that it is one of the best that I've read recently. It is a combination of revival history and practical application of Biblical principles. The first thing that you will notice about this book is that there is a theme...repentance. I am sure that if there was one thing that these authors would want any reader to take away from it, repentance would be it. They are clear and thorough in explaining that the Bible sets forth the fact that it is required of God's people before revival will happen. As I would have expected from these authors the Bible was the foundation of the entire book. They do not make points based on statistics or trends they make their claims based on the authority of God's Word. I, for one, really appreciate this.

One point that really shifted my perception of revival was that it is for the Church. Too often we think of "revivals" being these big evangelistic events but the spiritual awakening of the lost is actually a side-effect of true revival among God's people. Again, I think this is a big shift from where we, in America at least, are in terms of thinking about revival. Also, it is not something that we put on the calendar once or twice a year, it is something that God sends and His power is evident in it.

The Blackabys and King do a wonderful job of explaining what revival is and what it isn't. Along with that they give plenty of guidance on how to discern God sent revival from man-made entertainment and emotionalism. In fact, most of the chapters contain both positive and negative examples of the topic.

If I had any critiques of the book they would be these two things:
1. At times you can tell that three separate people were writing the book because there are instances where the same information is given as if it were completely new. This may just be the style that the editors put together but it read like different people were writing without knowing what the others were saying. This is not really a problem but something I noticed.
2. If you are sold out to contemporary worship you may find the chapter on worship a little hard to swallow. They don't completely discount it or write it off but they are fairly critical of contemporary worship practices and music. Although, it is not the old "I don't like loud music" argument. It is a well thought out critique of the practices.

Overall, as I mentioned at the outset, this is a fantastic book. If you are interested in revival and renewal or have a passion to see it come to your communities and land then it is well worth it. One word of caution, this is not a quick and easy read. Not only is it dense material wise, it is a full 300 pages of small print and you will want to absorb every bit of it.

Here is a link to the book at Christian Book Distributors.

447804: Fresh Encounter: God"s Pattern for Spiritual Awakening, Revised and Expanded Fresh Encounter: God's Pattern for Spiritual Awakening, Revised and Expanded

By Henry & Richard Blackaby, Claude King

Bread crumbs along the way.

Three weeks ago 9 intrepid Christians and I set off on a journey called Old Testament Survey, of which I am the pilot. For the next twelve weeks we will be taking a whirlwind tour of the OT and this past Tuesday Genesis was our port of call. It always amazes me to see the fact that the Bible is God's living Word in action. As we began to explore some basic information about the book of Genesis we spent some time looking for Christ there. Admittedly, there are some who would disagree with the idea that Christ is in the Old Testament, let alone the first book of it. However, the truth of the matter is that He is evident in every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This has been brought into bold relief not only in my studies for this class but also because of the Bible study our pastor is leading called "66 Books, One Savior."

What really got me excited was going over "types of Christ"  and Messianic prophecies in Genesis. A "type of Christ," according to Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, " is a historical fact that illustrates a spiritual truth." For instance, Romans 5:14 tells us that Adam was a "type" of Him who was to come, referring to Christ. Another way to put this would be foreshadowing. We've all seen this in our literature classes when an author foreshadows or alludes to something that is going to happen in the future. The same can be seen in Genesis, and all the other books, regarding Christ. It is important to understand that there is a difference between a prophecy about Christ and a type of Christ. The former is a specific reference to what is going to happen and the latter is more like a metaphor.

If we look in Genesis 3:15 we see these words, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel. (NASB)." Here we have the very first Messianic prophecy. Of course, we have a type of Christ even earlier in Adam who, like Jesus, was born in a supernatural way directly from God and is referenced in Romans 5:14 as I mentioned previously. Now, there are at least seven specific Messianic prophecies in Genesis and even more types of Christ. The point that I came to in class was that God was leaving us bread crumbs on the trail from the very beginning in order to lead us safely home.  Like the hiker in the forest who leaves clues for those who follow, our God has left us signs, clues, and a trail of His Son's blood to follow because He cares for us.
This trail leads us all the way through the Old Testament to the cross of Calvary and onward to the triumphant return of our Lord. What an amazing God we serve and worship. His plan is so perfect and well thought out that He was giving us hints and clues from day one six! There are those who claim that God is learning along the way as human history plays out but it seems to me He knew what the course was even before He set it in motion.

Some may say that God is unfair because His trail of crumbs is too hard to follow. I say it is evidence of His great creativity and if we miss it it is because of our self-induced blindness and hardness of heart. Romans 1:20 says, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." If you are looking it is clear to see that God has left us a trail to follow that leads straight to the safety of His loving presence. The question is: will we see it and if we do will we follow it?