Sunday, April 29, 2018

Crucible (Messy Revival)

photo source: Wiki Commons
“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” (Proverbs 17:3)

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
(Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen)

The process of refining silver, in the era when the book of Proverbs was written, is an evocative picture of how our hearts are refined. It’s a “made for sermon illustration” metaphor that I really like.

Silver is purified by the refiner, who brings increasing heat to bear on the unrefined metal. As the heat increases, all the impurities rise to the surface, and the refiner skims them off. The process is repeated until the desired result is achieved: a clear reflection of the refiner’s face in the silver.

The spiritual parallel is stunning; God refining our character until He sees a clear reflection of Jesus in us.
But as anyone who has experienced the refining process can tell you, when the heat gets turned up, it’s uncomfortable. (That’s an understatement of, shall we say, ‘biblical proportions’.)
At the same time, achieving the desired result makes the uncomfortable process worth it in the end. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Whenever we pray for more of the Spirit’s power and presence in our lives, we should not be surprised that the heat gets turned up, and some of our “schtuff” flares up in our face.
That’s how it works, after all. More of the Spirit’s work in our lives means more refining as part of the overall package. There are ‘mountain top’ moments that are exhilarating, but there are also difficult ‘valleys’ — both are part of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Which is why things can get wild and woolly during times of revival. The Holy Spirit is poured out in ways that go beyond ‘typical’ — the ‘omni’ presence of God becomes the ‘manifest’ presence — and there are a wide range of responses from people.

Some sin will be stirred up by the Enemy, trying his darndest to discredit what the Spirit is doing. And the critics of renewal movements delight in pointing this out, as if the presence of sinful activity ‘proves’ that God is not involved.

And some sin will be stirred up by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so it can be dealt with. That’s what a good Refiner does.
‘Revival’ is always connected to repentance. Whether it’s people coming to faith for the first time, or believers having the low-burning embers of their faith fanned into flame once again, repentance unto a holy life is normal.
There should be nothing shocking about sinful patterns being forced to the surface during times of revival/renewal. That’s how the Refiner’s fire works. The heat is on.

If you find yourself crying out for more of the Spirit, and sin & the temptation to sin seems to flare up — don’t rebuke the devil (except where appropriate) and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Instead, recognize the hand of the Refiner, and co-operate with the Spirit’s purifying work.

The heat is on. And the end result will be worth it.
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin, deep within
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
(Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Satan Sends an Emoji

image source: Wikicommons
In the Olden Days of Yesteryear, Satan would often phone church people to personally congratulate them when they took on tasks normally reserved for him. “You’re doing one helluva job. Keep up the good work!”

These days, things have gotten much busier, and wanting to keep up with the times and technology, the Devil is now sending diabolically clever emoji’s to signal his approval.

The task at hand, as it has been for many years, is two-fold:
(A) Demoralize church leaders to the point where they quit.

(B) Failing that, surround said leaders with enough toxicity that they can only survive by building walls of protection around themselves.
For example: in the Olden Days, the well-timed phone call — preferably during Sunday lunch — that interrupts the leader’s family time with a barrage of criticism. Meal-time ruined; leader’s motives, gifts and passion called into question; spouse & children witnesses to the carnage which in turn (dis)colors their view of church. Perfect!

The caller hangs up, tingling with a rush of self-righteous adrenaline — “I really gave them a piece of my mind held them accountable.”

And Satan sends an emoji.

For those eager not to miss out on the bandwagon, there are many ways to earn these congratulatory dopamine-enhancers (far more satisfying than a mere ‘like’ or ‘retweet’). Here’s a partial list:

The Declaration Of Defamation that shows up in a leader’s mail slot in the church office, from that most-prolific of all letter-writers: “Anonymous”.
The recurring line-up of ‘the usual suspects’ outside the pastor’s office, ready to grind their Axe of Agenda because the pastor has (in their opinion) somehow failed them God in a recent sermon.
The young worship leader who devotes hours and hours of practice, prayer, and using their gifts for the Kingdom, only to be told that numerous people plan to boycott the next time they lead worship because they don’t like (a) the volume, (b) the drums, (c) the songs, or (d) (fill in pet musical peeve here).
Or the equally disemboweling dagger: “You’re not anointed” or “you’re leading from ‘the flesh’ and not from the Spirit” (because these people can discern a worship leader’s heart and motives, just like God can).
The prickly email sent from a parishioner with a laundry list of complaints spiritual concerns, speaking “on behalf of a lot of people” (to give their criticism added weight).
Those who delight in spreading gossip under the guise of ‘concern’: “You know, a lot of people are saying [blank] about you behind your back — I just thought you should know”.
The grumpy person in the lobby — arms crossed, brow furrowed — compelled by All That Is Holy to accuse the leader of being aloof, unapproachable, or ‘looking defensive’ (while remaining blissfully unaware of the irony).
This is only a partial list, of course. With time, effort, and a little creativity, the possibilities and permutations are simply endless. The Enemy appreciates the additional help. Be diligent, and don’t ever take your foot off the gas pedal.

And Satan sends an emoji.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rise Above

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun..” (Ecc. 1:9)

You could read King Solomon’s words, and conclude (easily): nothing changes, and that’s just a little depressing. Solomon’s phrase is a bit more poetic — “all things are wearisome” — but he means the same thing.

Today, we might employ a different slogan: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Wars and rumors of war, corporate greed, political intrigue, church intrigue, betrayal — “saying me ‘yes’ but doing me ‘no’” — and the list goes on into infinity. All things are wearisome, indeed.

There are (at minimum) two possible strategies we could choose as a response to these Ecclesiastes moments:
  1. Give up. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” (Isa. 22:13)
  2. Dig in. “Let us not become weary in doing good…” (Gal. 6:9)
It’s been fifteen years since I wrote a little article entitled ‘Detoxing from Church’. I was blown away by how many people contacted me to thank me for writing it. That short article spawned several follow-up blog posts over the next couple of years, and was later the genesis for a book by the same title.
The original article was, at one point, included as a link on another website that warned readers to “brace” themselves before reading it. I took it as a compliment, although I’m pretty sure that was not their intent. (Insert smiley emoticon here)
Fast-forward fifteen years.

There are still a lot of people who are disillusioned with, and often wounded by, the church. People crushed under controlling leadership and willfully-blind church boards. Leaders savaged by agenda-driven back-stabbers in the congregation who would throw their own mothers under the bus.

Ecclesiastes moment: Give up, or dig in?

Recently, on separate occasions, I have heard statements made about “those people” (who have left a church) that need serious reconsideration.
  1. “They’re disobeying God’s Word by not being ‘in fellowship’. Jesus loves the church, but they don’t.”
    (wincing) We need to be really, really careful about judging the hearts of those who have left. Honestly, whenever I hear this statement, I wonder how people can be so defensive and un-reflective that their go-to answer is dripping in merciless judgement. Disillusioned people are in pain; don’t add to it.

    (Yes, there are unhealthy people who leave churches because they couldn’t control the leaders, but even so, our words — and attitudes — need to be grace-filled and not defensive.)
  2. “They’ve been disillusioned by the church, and so they chose to leave the faith.”
    Seriously? Leaving a particular church = rejecting Jesus? That’s an equation with zero connection to reality. It actually sounds much more like an excuse than an explanation — ‘yes, there’s a problem, but it’s 100% on them, not us’.
This is where we need to reconsider how we approach the topic — a ‘rise above’ moment, if you will.

Jesus is the kind of guy who would go out searching for one lost sheep. He wouldn’t sit in the synagogue and blame the lost sheep for leaving. He would go and look for it, and throw a party to celebrate once He’d brought the sheep home (Luke 15:3-6).

And if the synagogue church is behaving in ways less than God-honoring, His solution would be the same as it was throughout biblical history, Old Testament and New: REPENT.

Ecclesiastes moment: Give up, or dig in?