I am still reflecting on the evening’s sermon that I heard earlier. Some incredible stories from a variety of evangelism ‘front-lines’ that really made one stop and think about what God is doing in the world.
Earlier this week the Bible study group that I lead at one of our UK universities discussed doubt. In order to examine doubt, we needed to look at what doubt is not. This study evoked some strong opinions and thoughts from the group – not all of whom were declared Christians by any stretch of the imagination.
But as we addressed the issues in that study, I could not help but be struck by just how much platitudinal guff many Christians tend to spout more often than we have any business doing. I have suffered from this and also inflicted it upon others as much as many others. And then I have wondered why my witness was not more effective…hmm.
In my home church, and my home conference, we have heard more excellent sermons in the past five years alone than some people will hear in an entire lifetime. My concern is: what are we going to do about all that we have heard? Are we any further down the road than we were five years ago? What ought we to use as a yardstick for assessing our progress? And having identified it, would we find any sign of real progress if we looked closely enough?
Let’s consider this text:
King James Version (KJV)
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
Are we going to up the stakes in terms of what we will believe God can do, or are we going to continue living in insanity?
Yes, I said and meant that. Pastor (now Dr.) Steve Palmer is to blame for that last sentence. He it was who told me a definition of insanity in which too many of our churches specialise – “doing the same thing/s in the same way/s but expecting different results.
This is absolutely applicable to my home church.
I can’t take it any more. I have had enough faithless Christianity to last me several lifetimes over – and a faithless Christianity that thinks it is faith-filled because it believes in God and the Bible is a death warrant.
Belief in God is NOT a sign that anyone has the type of Biblical faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). As James tells us, “even the devils believe, and tremble!” (2:19).
If you read the post previous to this one, you will have a different context for what I am saying in this post – and where I am about to go. The speaker tonight spoke about the need to de-prioritise “success” and re-prioritise “faithfulness” – and in a church and cultural community where “success” is highly valued and highly-pursued because it is held to be a sign of the manifestation of the favour of God, I am not too sure how many of my fellow-congregants were ready to take that idea on board tonight.
I do know that in my church we have a long way to go before we are going to see God working like He works elsewhere. We are simply not ready for spiritual excellence. Even many of those of us who are ‘faithful’ in actions are not ‘faith-filled’ in mind and heart and their erstwhile behaviour and language makes that abundantly clear.
This has gone on long enough for me.
My vision for my own ministry has taken more hits from more people (including those closest to me) than Coventry Cathedral during WW2 (google if need be). But for some reason known only to God, it wouldn’t die. So without disclosing more than would be appropriate, all I can say is that even before this message I was praying for the biggest Kingdom-specific vision I have had so far in my life – which will remain strictly between me and God for a long time yet! Now, after this message, I will be praying for the spiritual gift of faithfulness to keep on praying for the vision.
Here’s C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
As those who are philosophically literate and aware of the situation between Elizabeth Anscombe and Lewis may note, perhaps his reference to Kant and the Stoics needs to be accepted with some caution (i.e. don’t talk about Kant or the Stoics if you’ve no idea who they were, as even Lewis got into trouble on the odd occasion with that stuff) but the essence of his theology on this occasion is as profound as it gets. Unblushing rewards? Sound a bit pseudo-evangelical and prosperity-gospel-like to you? You’re in good company, but you have a problem. We were in Luke 18 earlier, try this for size:
28Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
29And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
30Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
Do we actually believe that?
I’ll tell you this for free – failure to believe this is failure to believe the Son of God. Failure to believe Him is failure to believe God. So how is it anything other than insane to believe IN God, but not believe what He says in His Word?
God is still working the miracle of re-creating deranged, self-obsessed and fallen human hearts. To those who say they believe the gospel: how do you KNOW you have been changed? How do you KNOW you still believe?