I have been in countless church services throughout my life. I grew up in the church. Mainly, the ‘charismatic/Pentecostal’ circles. So believe me when I say I have experienced many different things. I’ve been on foreign missions trips and ministered in various churches in the region where I currently live (Charlotte, NC) and growing up (Lancaster, PA). During these services, I’ve experienced some really awesome things like prodigals coming ‘back home’, the sick healed, the lost finding Jesus. I’ve experienced a lot of interesting ‘manifestations of the Holy Spirit’. Some quite bazaar to your natural mind. All that to say that I’ve been around the proverbial block.
And can you believe that all that stuff really doesn’t satisfy? I mean, all the above is really neat and interesting and it gives you some awesome stories to tell around the dinner table or some awesome conversation pieces. But I don’t think that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, He’s going to be asking about that. I don’t think that it’s something that is of importance to God. Yeah, He’s proud of me for being a son and pursuing Him. But it’s more about a relationship between me and Him that He’s concerned about.
A number of years ago, I was asked to speak at a youth retreat. So in the time leading up to it, I was praying and asking the Lord what was on HIS heart for this event. I wanted to preach a good “revolution” message, rally the troops, that sort of thing. But during the prep time, it just wasn’t coming together. I had a few notes and some awesome compilations I thought would be neat to share. But it still wasn’t coming together. The morning of, I was sitting in a room with two of my friends who came to help minister and the speaker from the previous night, Steve Hoffman. Steve looked at me at one point in time and said “Shawn, these kids have grown up in church. They know all the right things, they know all the rules. But most of them have never had an encounter with God Himself to make a difference in their life.” Those words went like a dart right into my heart.
That morning, the Lord gave me John 15. I quickly read it and knew somewhat of where I was going. We can have all the services we want; you can do all the conferences you want. But when there is no intimacy with the Lord, I wonder at how much of a difference all that is going to make. People nowadays are crying out to be heard. They’re crying out to feel needed and wanted. They’re crying out for relationships! They’re crying out for a depth of a reality! They’re open to the supernatural and wanting to see if the church has anything to offer more than just meetings and hype and a whole lot of talk. I think that many people want to see if we as the church can put actions to our words.
Let me take a step back here really quickly. There is nothing wrong with church services and meetings and programs necessarily. But when that is replacing a true intimacy with the Lord, it gets scary. Whether you attend a small house church or a community church or a mega church, that isn’t the point here. My question to you is do you know the Lord in a deeply personal way? Do you have a life giving relationship with Him? I know that at times its hard to pray and hard to read the Bible. Sometimes you may have those times where you feel like all the prayers you pray and the Bible reading you’re doing isn’t amounting to anything. But it does make a difference. Remember, a relationship takes work. There really is no cookie cutter way for it. There are emotions and feelings involved.
A number of years ago while in Bible school, the leaders decided to shut the school down for a couple days and just have a time of prayer and fasting. I was noticing a difference in the direction of the school and it was starting to concern me just a bit. This school was known for its revolutionary mentality and it seemed like we were getting soft. And then it dawned on me: maintaining intimacy in the church truly is a revolutionary idea! As I said earlier, being in different churches I have seen a lot. All these programs that were in effect didn’t seem that productive. The church was being more influenced by the world rather than the other way around. The saints weren’t being equipped for the work of the ministry. It seemed like a lot of it was a one man show done by the pastor or leader of the church.
I remember one time, I was having ice cream with an elder in a church. I simply looked this gentleman in the eyes and asked “Can you name me one time when you had a life changing encounter with the presence of God?” He sat there for a bit and eventually just shook his head no. My heart broke for this guy. You can have all the proper theology and it’s important to know the Word of God! But is it coming out of a heart attitude that says “I NEED to do this” rather than “I WANT to do this”? Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is take a theological truth and turn it into an experiential reality.
Take this as an encouragement to develop and maintain true intimacy with the Lord. The Bible says that we’ll be known by our fruits. One of the best ways, if not the best, is to spend that time with Him. Since each person is different, it’s going to look different for each and every person. Dig into the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to cultivate that intimacy with Him.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: charlotte, emotion, intimacy, judgment, prayer, Reality, supernatural, the church, the Holy Spirit
Wayne Hobson wrote a piece on Dr. Brown and the Coalition of Conscience for the Charlotte Baptist Examiner on the subject “Does God Hate Gays?” His series of articles looks at how various Charlotte groups view the GLBT community, and chose Dr. Brown and the COC to represent an “opposing, yet compassionate message,” comparing and contrasting our group with the approach of others that bring a hateful and arrogant tone such as Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Hobson writes:
We will present two views on the gay community. The first view is that of church groups and organizations in Charlotte that represent a conservatively opposing, yet compassionate message.
The second view is that of complete intolerance and rejection of the LGBT community.
Dr. Brown and the Coalition have been a strong voice of opposition to activities that to many, is a sign of moral decay in the Charlotte area. I chose Dr. Brown as a representative of the first viewpoint on the gay community because it was his group, the Coalition of Conscience, that protested the Charlotte [Gay] Pride celebration back in July.
During an interview for the article, the author asked Dr. Brown a pointed question concerning God’s emotions toward the GLBT community:
Q. How do you think God feels about the gay/lesbian community?
A. Dr. Brown: “God loves all people. He sent His Son and Jesus died for them. The same God opposes sins and calls people to repent… But we [the Church community] must do better to convey God’s love. Many gays have felt that they are rejected by the church and given no hope.. [Many gay people] have been hurt and wounded by those professing Christ. If anyone wants to do harm to them [LGBTs], they’ll have to go through me”.
“If anyone wants to do harm to them, they’ll have to go through me” is a bold declaration that shows no hint of any hatred for the LGBT community. In fact, I’ve talked to a number of gay rights opposers over the years and none of them have stated that they would protect gay people while opposing gay activities like Dr. Brown has.
Throughout our 25 or so minute conversation, I sensed no hatred or anger towards the gay community. Instead, I only sensed compassion and conviction.
“Compassion and conviction” are two adjectives that permeate the lives of Jesus followers everywhere. Let’s come out of the closet, and let the world know this is who we really are and how we really feel. Fred Phelps and his Westboro “community” may have their message, but we have ours. Let’s get that message of God’s love into our community!
Posted in News, Revolution & Justice Tagged with: charlotte, Coalition of Conscience, Dr. Michael Brown, emotion, examiner, Fred Phelps, gay activism, interview, Jesus, protest, sin, the church, Wayne Hobson
“The Lord…Who sendeth forth springs in the bottoms of the valleys,
Between the mountains they take their course.”
We tend to glory in those events in our lives that we consider to be “mountain-top” experiences. We humans are emotional beings, blessed with a variety of senses and a wide range of moods. We have been created in the image of God.
He is not a stoic, predictable, hum-drum figure. He is a Living Person. He speaks. He listens. He watches. He feels. He grieves. He laughs. He rejoices. He weeps. He loves. He hates. He Is.
Yet even though we have been created in His image, we are a disjointed and crooked people. Though He is all love, we are naturally spiteful, bitter, and motivated by depravity. Though He is entirely pure in thought and action, we are drawn to the wicked and swallowed up by the low moral tone of this dying age. Though He is fervent and faithful, we are morally spineless, spiritually lazy, covenant breakers, and embarrassingly inconsistent. When we are born from above, this changes in a radical way. Still, there are all kinds of inconsistencies and rough edges in character and thought which need to be refined. We are created in His image, but our “spiritual equilibrium” has been rocked by the influence of the world and we barely know how to walk- especially in a valley.
I love the “mountain-top” times. I love those seasons of my life when it seems that the presence of God and the word of the Lord invade my day and bring to me a consciousness of the Kingdom. I love to be spontaneously moved to prayer and worship. I love it when, in an effortless manner, I find myself yearning for the Word. I love it when there is a sudden grace to serve someone, or a sudden faith to lay hands on a sick person. God Himself has given us “mountain times.” But He is also the Author of the valleys, and it’s the believer that drinks deeply from the “springs in the bottoms of the valleys” who will be the overcomer, both now and at the end of the age.
We all have mountain times, some more often than others. But be assured that if you are going to be an overcomer in the Kingdom of our God, you will have to become a pioneer of the valleys. You will have to allow the Lord to shift your understanding of what the difficult or seemingly uninspired times really mean. You will have to look upon everything- the tension of not knowing what lies ahead, the inconvenience and trial of rugged terrain, the situations that cause offense- through a whole different lens.
I must say, it is a blessed thing to be “unoffendable.” If the valley can offend me, it can rob me of the springs. If I’m offended by what a person said, or by what I didn’t get (that I surely deserved!), or by something unpleasant that sideswipes my life, I’ve lost the race. It is right there, in an offended state, that I lose the gladness which comes from the river of God. Many saints have become discouraged or incapacitated because of offense.
“So-and-so gave me a dirty look.”
“They appointed him a leader in the church and I’ve sacrificed so much more than him!”
“I said I wanted no mustard on this! I’m going back to give them a piece of my mind.”
“Why are they giving him all the attention? I’ve got more revelation and wisdom than him.”
These kinds of offenses are signs that we have not fully realized our adoption “in the Beloved One” (Eph. 1). We are looking for approval from men. We are still dominated by a self-centric mode of thinking. We have not taken up the cross and followed Him with every part of our hearts. We are still trying to save our lives and our reputations. We are still allowing little bumps in the valley to rob us of the joy and fulfillment of knowing the Son of God and walking with Him in a living communion.
By succumbing to offense, we are postponing and potentially forfeiting the eternal reward that has been laid up for us; namely, a crown of righteousness, given to us by the King Himself. If we do not allow the Lord to deal with the issue of offense in our hearts, if we are complainers, if we are whining about how difficult things are, we are still candidates for “falling away” when greater times of turbulence come. If we are not willing to believe God and worship Him from the valleys, we are still fixed in a condition that could eventuate in apostasy when more difficult times come. Are you giving in to offense and bitterness, friend? What will be your response when even greater trial comes? If you are not free to worship and trust the Lord in the valleys of life, you may already be posturing yourself for a backsliding.
We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Every one of us has the opportunity to hear Him declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What offense can I cling to, what temptation can I bow to, what trial can I allow to consume my heart that is worth delaying or even missing the wonder and glory of that day? Dear child of God, the Father Himself calls you to His springs, and I am suggesting that they spring forth most gloriously when we tap them from the bottom of the valleys.
Pressure will come. Situations will arise. Men will wrong us. Such is life in a fallen world. Yet only those who know and see the Father in the ruggedness and mundaneness of the valley will have the grace to go on unmoved when the daggers of opposition and trial come flying.
Oh beloved children! There is a stream in the very bottom of the valley. Do not be mistaken. It’s there. You will not feel it, you will not hear its flow, you will not automatically be refreshed by the mist it produces. But if you bow low in meekness and acknowledge the Presence of God in your life, you may drink from it and be satisfied.
God’s pioneers are the ones who have learned (over time) to find the “springs in the bottoms of the valleys.” They are not emotionless robots. They too feel the pressure of life’s trying events. They are tested by the same things that cause others to fold and crumble. They have learned to see the valley through the eyes of God. Indeed, they have learned to see God in the valleys. If you ask them, they will tell you, “Yes, yes dear one. There is a stream in the valley. There is a sabbath reality there. It is in Him. He’s there in the valleys as much as He is on the mount. There is unexplainable peace there. There is holiness there. But you must seek His wisdom from the bottoms of the valleys. You must have faith. Oh friend, faith is everything in the valley.”
Are you offended? Anxious? It is only because you have given yourself to some other counsel than the Voice of the Lord. Please hear me: If you have been born from above, you’ve been adopted into a glorious Kingdom, and the Blood of God’s own Son has permanently rent the veil for your sake. You are not an orphan any more. He is calling you to enter, dear saint.
When we see Him, our desire to prove something or impress others is utterly demolished. When we hear Him, we can no longer put on a religious mask or cloak ourselves in some fake piety. When we encounter Him, we are purged and cleansed of all unrighteousness. We are shocked and transformed by the wonder of Divine Love. If we will set our minds on things above “where Christ is” (Col. 3), we will know God in reality- on the height of the mountain and in the most disparaging of valleys- and our joy will be full.
Great Father, have for Yourself a community of pioneers. Pilgrims who refuse to walk in the valleys without You. Build up the “inner-man” of Your Church. Cause us to drink freely, however contrary to the world- and even to our own minds- it may seem. We want to overcome all these things, not just to say we’ve overcome. We want to overcome because to know You in the valleys is to know You in reality. What a joy. What an awesome invitation. We come, Lord.
Even though I walk through the valley… You are with me… -Psm. 23.4
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: character, discipline, emotion, God, overcoming, unoffended