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Archive for August, 2018

Where is the Wise?

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:20-24)

Paul had a problem with these Greeks. They thought they were so smart that they were going to figure everything out. Everyone had their own ideas, but, like rambunctious little children on the playground, it only led to confusion and division.  If the foundation for the Church of Jesus Christ was ever going to be established so that the light of this gospel could shine to the rest of the world, then this pride and arrogance would have to be purged. The problem was that everyone thought they were the ones who were right.

But it wasn’t about who was right or wrong. It was about operating in a totally different dimension than the carnal world. It was about being in the Spirit and not being subject to the pride of carnal wisdom.

The world by wisdom, Paul cried to them, did not know God. So God decided to use something that the world didn’t know to save them.  God decided to use preaching. The Jews could not receive that as being theologically correct and the Greeks thought it was stupid. Instead of figuring out which religious rule it fit into, God threw away the rules. Instead of making analytical sense so that the Greeks could use their prestigious abilities of reason to figure it all out, God used the foolish, the weak, the base, and the despised to confound them. He used things that are not and things that do not hold substance in this world, that cannot be seen, felt, or handled to bring to nothing the things that our carnal minds are able grasp. He used faith, which is the substance, not of the world but of things not seen, to save us.

For three chapters, Paul rips back the carnal covering of this world’s reality to plead with the Corinthians to turn their thinking inside out. Instead of eating of the fruit off the Tree of Knowledge that is desired to make one wise, he pleads with them to humble themselves and realize that God doesn’t need their fleshly excellence. Instead God uses a hidden wisdom that the natural man cannot understand and that defies all reason to bring about the great works of God.

How much like America they were! We are so theologically sophisticated that we have the arrogance to dismiss the Old Time Gospel as out-of-date and the hard message of hellfire as something wrong. This generation seem to think that they know better than those old-timers who carried the Cross through times of persecution, paid the price in deep prevailing prayer, and changed the fabric of our society. We are much more enlightened now, so much so that we have redefined the meaning of Grace and adjusted and smoothed out the sharpness of the cutting edge of the Word of God.

The rest of the world is viewed as dimmer lights to us. Europe is cold, Asia is for the most part unconverted, South America is Catholic and Africa is primitive and poor. We still see ourselves as the same Light upon the Hill that the Puritans believed in, and we are eager to usher the rest of the world into our new enlightened state. But are we?

I am reminded of King Ahaz’s brand new brass altar in 2ndKings 16 that he copied from the king of Assyria. Oh, it was made with bright and shiny brass with a really modern design, and was much better than that old Brazen Altar of the Lord. So he moved the Brazen Altar of the Lord over and put this shiny new brass altar in it’s place. It sure seemed like a good idea at the time to trade the old ways for the new ways, but new and modern is not always right and good. In a short while, that same king of Assyria overflowed the banks up the neck of Jerusalem and almost destroyed Judah, just as Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 8:8).  Was that not because of Ahaz’s indiscretion? Is that not like what we are doing when we choose a modern Gospel that is more to our liking than that hard message of righteousness and the fear of God?

I have one question for us – a litmus test, so to speak. If we are so good and the gospel that has evolved over the last 50 years with this generation is so much better, then where, as Gideon once asked, are the miracles our fathers have told us about?

Mark tells us that these signs will follow them that believe. (Mark 16:17-18). Then where are the signs? I’m not talking about weak-kneed excuses for the anemic show of faith. I am talking about the supernatural demonstration of the Spirit that Paul boasted of in 1 Cor. 2:4. Where are the healing lines where everyone gets healed? Where is the supernatural Presence of the Holy Spirit that fills the room like a cloud of righteousness, which makes the air shimmer from the glory of God and drives sinners to the altar in droves?  Where are these signs that were once so abundant?  We used to have them 50 years ago. Where are these supernatural signs today?

I see them in Africa. Yes, that same Africa that we patronize as if they were lesser lights and children in theological sophistication.  And yet, God shows up in Holy Ghost power over there with miracles, healings, and revival. And we think we are somehow more enlightened than them?

Our grandfather’s generation knew God in power and, like Paul who gloried in the fact that he knew nothing except Christ Jesus and him crucified, they rested in their reliance in being led by the Spirit, not their lexicons, outlined sermon notes, visual aids, smoke, or mirrors.  No, they yielded in the pulpit and allowed the Spirit of God to preach the message. Something that we have lost the ability, courage, or faith to do anymore.

Only when we crucify our flesh, dispense with our carnal theological wisdoms and our stubborn rebellious ways will we ever be able to humble ourselves and fully take on the mind of Christ. Only then will God ever allow us to enter into that place of true power in God.

And then, God will get all the glory, not us.

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. (Jeremiah 6:16)

 

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Changes

“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance;” (1stThessalonians 1:5)

I have been traveling across Africa for the past 15 years. During that time, I have preached in over 1,000 churches and spoken to tens of thousands of people. One of the recurring complaints I keep hearing is that Americans are no longer preaching the same message that they brought to them 50 years ago. I have heard that a hundred times if I have heard it once, and I have heard it from Kenya to Nigeria.

We used to preach about righteousness and holiness in the fear of God. Grace was the power that God gave us to overcome sin, the flesh, and the world. The formula was simple – “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13), and Grace gave us the power to do that.

Today, the focus of Modern Christianity is different, as are the definitions of the words we use.  We are more “grace-oriented”, as one mega-preacher put it, and our emphasis is on the love of God rather than on His wrath. Today, grace has become more of a covering for sin than a cure for it. The sharp lines of judgment have been blurred to the point that no one is really sure any longer of who is saved and who is not. We now accept all denominations and all religions without prejudice because, after all, who are we to judge?

In 50 years, we have changed the basic tenets of the Gospel more than they have in generations. Those in today’s Modern Church who see this change applaud it as enlightening. The younger generation, who never experienced the power of the old fashioned Gospel, are not aware of the difference and so have whole-heartedly accepted this new Modern Gospel as if it has been the standard for all time.

But there’s more missing than just a change of focus. The power is gone. So are the miracles. Our sermons are now “in word only” with 5 bulleted points and a video clip, whereas they used to be delivered under the Anointing that pierced the depths of your soul. You used to be able to feel the tangible power and presence of the Holy Spirit like a cloud of glory. Now, we forget the message five minutes after we cross the threshold. We have traded the guts of the Gospel for an increase in sophistication and scholasticism, a fruit that is “desired to make one wise”.

The Africans can see this clearly. They wonder why we cannot.  Perhaps it is because we don’t want to, but instead, like the Church of Laodicea in Revelations, have chosen the golden calves at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

When and how did this change happen?  I believe things began changing in the 1960’s. Starting in 1964 with Billy Graham’s admitted shift in his messages and the ecclesiastical changes in some of the denominations, the tide of the Church began to turn. Fifty years later, the direction has fully turned. The truth is that 2,000 years of Gospel was upended in a very short time.

Today, Jonathan Edwards, Billy Sunday, A.W. Tozer, and many other giants would not be welcome in today’s church. They were too harsh; too judgmental; too strict; too hateful. That which was good is now considered evil, and that which was apostate, is now considered blessed.

The encouraging thing, however, is that today’s climate is very much like it often is just before God sends revival. There will be prophets to declare the old-fashioned fear of God – and they will be rejected – but there will be those who are hungry for something more than “church as usual”. Their hunger for the real power and presence of God will drive them to their knees, and that is what will bring revival.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

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