How many sermons have you heard in your life? How many have you heard in the last year? How many were memorable? How many left an eternal mark inside of you adding to the very make up of your being? Leonard Ravenhill said to his son, “Be careful when you preach, because if you don’t have a word from God, you are not only wasting your hour but as many hours that are sitting in the pews.”
I have had the privilege to hear some of the greatest sermons ever preached. I also have been in meetings where I felt like life was being sucked out of me. I know that you know the feeling of the latter, hopefully you have had the experience of the former. Leonard Ravenhill said, “When was the last time you tip toed out of the sanctuary because you met God.” In Titus Paul said that the, “Word was made manifest through…preaching.” A living word from the throne has that much power, it brings men face to face with Jesus. A word from heaven can sweep one up by the wind of the Spirit into the reforming gaze of God.
I have noticed a few things about these messages. I have noticed that they all seem to have some undeniable and inescapable qualities. After I noticed these things, I made a mental note to weigh each word that I am hearing by this Spiritual scale. I submit to you that this is a very good way to test the spirits. A solid factor in hearing God. A distinguishing maker to determine the origin of a preached word. Maybe this falls short, maybe it is spot on. I have seen it to help me. So humbly I share it with you, to take a piece of paper and mark down how many times in a month that you hear these themes selected by your Pastor. If you find them lacking, I suggest to sensitively share it with him so that he might take it back to God in prayer. There are 5 points. I believe the first is most important but the following four are not in order of importance.
The first and foremost is CHRIST. Listen closely to note how much is Jesus the emphasis. Not just the historical Jesus, but the person. Notice how challenged you are to know Him more and how personally He is referred to. Note in your heart if you genuinely and undeniably see Jesus as the centerpiece.
The second is the CROSS. Are you challenged to take up your cross? Are you able to see the evidence of the cross in your life or lack there of? Note if the doorway into the resurrected life is proclaimed to your soul.
Have you a constant Spiritual remembrance of God’s suffering punctured into your heart? Does the preacher cause you to see the dripping blood of God?
Is there any encouragement to take up your cross in relation to one another? Is the cross the heart of all wisdom presented to you and the universal solution to the problem of man?
The third is how does the things being spoken to you relate to those in CHAINS? We in America often forget that Paul told us to, “Remember those in chains.” Not just to pray for them but that the constant meditation upon the fact that our brothers are suffering throughout the world will effect the very fabric of our thinking. It is not a just balance to weigh a prosperity message next the Father who has just been ripped away from his children for the gospel. I mean, how foolish would a man feel to stand before Richard Wurmbrand, who suffered 14 years in Romanian prisons for Jesus and tell him about his best life now? Or that there is a rich blessing of material things coming his way as he gazes from the floor with a bleeding back unable to walk from his last beating and shivering from eating only one slice of bread a week? We need to remember those in chains when we speak. I am all for being provided for, but if the preaching doesn’t ring true for those in chains, we have forgotten them. If we are giving a revelation of Jesus to the inner man, it will ring to to all men. Not just a select portion of the world.
The fourth is CONVICTION. Paul said that his words came with…”conviction.” Conviction is being convinced inwardly beyond intellectual reason. Conviction is the influence of the Holy Spirit on the soul. Conviction is the power to arrest a man not just about sin but about God. I am moved in the core of my being by words from another world entering into my soul. Prophets burn with this gift. Ravenhill said, “you want to meet a prophet? You probably want to see one but not hear one. Because he will leave blisters on your soul.” Though not all men will carry such a deepness of conviction there must be a sense that this man speaking to me has been with God. Some people describe honey and others dispense honey.
The last is INCENTIVES. What are the incentives that are being laid down in front of you? Is it eternal? Is it a vision of eternity? Has the essence of eternal significance been injected into you? Is there a negative incentive rooted in eternity? That to disobey will have consequences? We cannot preach an emasculated word. It must carry the essence of a positive eternal incentive and a negative incentive as well or it will create a loose generation no matter how great their gifting, their calling or their power – without the fear of God, we will create an emasculated Christianity that cannot overcome the devil.
So these things are very important to me. You may add some or disagree with some, but I feel that it is a crucial layout for weighing a word that is claiming to be from God. If we have failed in these areas, God will have mercy on us. And He will move in spite of us, but to have these qualities is a great indication that you are standing before a man that you can be assured has come forth from the counsel of the Most High.
Eric Gilmour is an Associate Editor for Voice of Revolution, overseeing Revival & Evangelism. Visit his website at agonypress.podbean.com
What if the atheists are right? What if our Universe, the Earth, mankind, and you and I all exist by mere chance? What if, as Carl Sagan put it, “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” and with nothing beyond the physical universe, Richard Dawkins was correct in stating “we are on our own in the universe…. humanity can expect no help from outside”?
Point 1: If the Cosmos is all there is, then all that is will die.
“Earth has been habitable for 4.5 billion years and only has a half billion years left.” That’s the conclusion of Pennsylvania State University professor James Kasting. According to Professor Kasting, “Astronomers always knew that the oceans would evaporate, but they typically thought it would occur only when the Sun left the main sequence – that will be in five billion years. However, my calculations show the oceans may evaporate much earlier.”
What will happen after our planet can no longer support life? Professors Peter Schröder and Robert Smith predict that “In a few billion years, the Sun will fuse the last of its hydrogen into helium, turn into a red giant and expand to 250 times its current size.” Initially, there will appear to be hope for the now lifeless planet we call home, as the gravitational pull from the Sun will be loosened, enabling the Earth to widen its orbit and escape being enveloped by the Sun. However, this widening orbit will cause a “tidal bulge” on the Sun’s surface. This bulge will “lag just behind the Earth in its orbit, slowing it down enough to drag it to a fiery demise.”
Tens of billions of years later, according to astrophysicists, “the sun will have shrunk to a white dwarf, giving little light and even less heat to whatever is left of Earth, and entered a long, lingering death that could last 100 trillion years—or a thousand times longer than the cosmos has existed to date. The same will happen to most other stars, although a few will end their lives as blazing supernovas. Finally, though, all that will be left in the cosmos will be black holes, the burnt-out cinders of stars and the dead husks of planets. The universe will be cold and black.”
“By the time the final chapter of cosmic history is written—further in the future than our minds can grasp—humanity, and perhaps even biology, will long since have vanished. Yet it’s conceivable that consciousness will survive, perhaps in the form of a disembodied digital intelligence. If so, then someone may still be around to note that the universe, once ablaze with the light of uncountable stars, has become an unimaginably vast, cold, dark and profoundly lonely place.”
Is this really our great hope? That all that we know, all that we love, all that we are… may live on one day as nothing more than a faint and distant memory, drifting aimlessly through a cold, dead nothingness? If “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” then what else IS there to hope for? Since there is no God, there is no outside force to intervene. We, the Earth, and the Universe will ultimately share the same fate… death.
Point 2: If atheism is true, then man’s search for meaning is in vain.
Psychoanalyst and Nazi concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl spent the later part of his life developing a psychological technique he termed logotherapy, which he developed by studying his and his fellow prisoners’ psyches during his years in concentration camps. His work was focused on “the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning,” which he detailed in his book Man’s Search For Meaning
How essential is this search of meaning to man? Frankl summed up his findings by saying that “this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man,” and yet if, as William Lane Craig points out in his book Reasonable Faith, “mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe,” what ultimate meaning could there be in the existence of anything or anyone? Perhaps one could say that they have “influenced others or affected the course of history,” but while their life “may be important relative to certain other events… what is the ultimate significance of any of these events? If all these events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate significance of influencing any of them?” If there is no God, there can be no meaning.
This is why many atheists compare man’s search for meaning to questions like “what is the meaning of a cup of coffee?” To distinguish ourselves in any ultimate sense from an inanimate object is nonsensical, we both simply exist, neither one having any ultimate reason for existing, and neither holding any more inherent value than the other, which brings me to my next point.
Point 3: If there is no immortality and no ultimate moral authority, then all things are permitted.
Humanist philosopher Richard Taylor points out in his book Ethics, Faith, and Reason that “to say that something is wrong because . . . it is forbidden by God, is . . . perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong . . . even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable. . . . The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.” The only way that something can be wrong in any real and objective sense, is if a God exists to declare it to be so.
If there is no God, and we have no ultimate moral authority to turn to, then what possible right could any of us have to declare anyone or anything wrong? We simply exist, and prefer one thing or the other. Truly, there exists a more or less consistent set of moral laws that we all subscribe to (a point we will explore later), but with no binding moral authority, choosing to acknowledge and behave according to these rules is nothing more than a valueless fact. Ghandi chose to follow these rules, Hitler didn’t. Is Ghandi a better person for doing so? Only in the sense that the majority of our species have decided it to be so. Was Hitler wrong for killing six million Jews? Most would say yes, but what of the minority of people that would say no? If God does not exist, then moral judgment is nothing more than opinion.
And what of injustice? If there is no God, the only punishment that can be given to someone that desires to do evil is in this life. There is no ultimate justice, only the hope that to some extent evil will be punished and good will be rewarded through government, society, etc… As insufficient as these entities are in combating and punishing evil, what happens when even they are taken away as a hindrance to evil? Consider the story of Christian missionary Richard Wurmbrand, who was tortured for his faith in the prisons of communist Romania, as he reflects on the beliefs and actions of his atheistic torturers:
I often asked my torturers, “Don’t you have pity in your hearts?” They usually answered with quotations from Lenin: “You cannot make omelets without breaking the shells of eggs,” and “You cannot cut wood without making chips fly.”
I said again, “I know these quotations from Lenin. But there is a difference. When you cut a piece of wood it feels nothing. But here you are dealing with human beings. Every beating produces pain and there are mothers who weep.” It was in vain. They are materialists. For them nothing besides matter exists and to them a man is like wood, like an eggshell. With this belief they sink to unthinkable depths of cruelty.
The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward for good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I heard one torturer say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.
— Richard Wurmbrand: Tortured for Christ
19th Century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyovski explored the impact of atheism in his work The Brothers Karamazov. At one point, a character recounts the statements of one of the brothers:
“Let me …. tell you another little story, this one about Mr. Ivan Karamazov himself, an interesting and characteristic story, I think. Well, not more than five days ago, in a company consisting mostly of ladies of our town, he solemnly declared, in the course of a discussion, that there was nothing on earth to force men to love their fellow men, that there was no law of nature that a man should love mankind, and that if there was love on earth it did not stem from any natural law but rather from man’s belief in immortality. And here he added parenthetically that if there was any natural law, it was precisely this: Destroy a man’s belief in immortality and not only will his ability to love wither away within him but, along with it, the force that impels him to continue his existence on earth. Moreover, nothing would be immoral then, everything would be permitted, even cannibalism. He went even further, finally asserting that, for every individual — people like us now, for instance — who does not believe in God or immortality, the natural moral law immediately becomes the opposite of religious law and that absolute egotism, even carried to the extent of crime, must not only be tolerated but even recognized as the wisest and perhaps the noblest course…”
“Just a minute!” Dmitry shouted unexpectedly. “I want to get it straight: crime must be considered not only as admissible but even as the logical and inevitable consequence of an atheist’s position. Did I get it right?”
“You’ve got it right,” Father Paissi said.
In her essay Existentialism and Dostoevsky, Katharena Eiermann summarized Ivan Karamazov’s contention as, “if there is no God, everything is permitted.” Wurmbrand’s atheistic torturers understood this tie between God, immortality, and morality, and with no outside entity to stop them in this life, they were left without any fear of punishment, and the result was seen in the 18 wounds to Wurmbrand’s neck, back and chest he showed to the U.S. Senate upon his return to America. If atheistic evangelist Richard Dawkins was right in declaring that belief in immortality was “dangerous nonsense,” and thus that there is no immortality and no supernatural creator, then are not all things (including the acts performed by these Communist torturers) permitted?