How Big Is Your God?

Throughout life, you will likely find yourself in situations in which you are asked to compromise. Compromise, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, in ministry, we cannot be so stubborn as to not be willing to work with others and find solutions that are conciliatory to keeping peace in a congregation of believers. In ministry, an unwillingness to compromise can never be based on pride (Prov 11:12), hardness of heart (Zech 7:11,12), arrogance (Prov 18:12), or haughtiness (Prov 16:18). In many cases, compromise can be a very good thing. At Ephesians Chapter 4, Paul instructs us to walk worthy of the calling we have received, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and with diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:2,3). Therefore, according to the intent and purpose of preserving unity through the bond of peace, God calls us to be willing to make certain necessary compromises.

What God will never call us to do however, is to be willing to compromise His word. God will never call us to neuter the convicting, soul-stirring effect of the truth of His word. Should you ever find yourself in a situation in which you are asked to compromise your wording because the term for what you are preaching is controversial, you would do well to remember that is exactly what Jesus experienced. In many ways, over the course of the last 2000 years, the religious establishment hasn’t changed much. Jesus’ teaching was doctrinally sound, but what He was preaching was very controversial to the accepted religious establishment of His day. In fact, Jesus was so controversial, that they crucified Him for it. If what you are preaching is doctrinally sound, then there is no reason to compromise your wording. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.”

We tend towards manufacturing our churches to seem as inviting as possible, whether that means a never-ending building fund or the expense of compromising our message for the sake of appeal. We want to make sure that we make no offensive posturing, that we exude no potential controversy, lest we ward off any potential visitor, and we want a service that is as streamlined and predictable as possible. We want to be seeker-sensitive, and the more sensitive we are to their sensitivities, the greater the chance we’ll have at drawing them in.

We tend to be drawn more towards catering to the crowd, rather than catering to God, Who is the only One Who draws men. But we have this whole notion that it is us– our ideas, our abilities, our foresight, our manufactured appeal, our streamlined application of the church program– who draws people to Christ. We’ve built a whole generation of churches based on the notion of “entrepreneurship”– good public relations insight, risk vs. reward, productive business models, congregational development strategies, rousing worship, emotionally engaging messages– all of which, being the driving force behind our notion of a “successful” ministry. In so doing, we have robbed the Holy Spirit of His work.  Sure, we are willing to acknowledge when God has “blessed our ministry”, we thank God for blessing “our efforts”, but who is really receiving the glory here?  What would happen if God stripped a church of everything, back down to the foundations of Spirit and Grace, where all the work that was done by that church, in that church and through that church could only be attributed to God and God alone?  Most churches today have lost such a sense of total abandonment towards God, which is why most churches today have been abandoned by the miracle-working presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

We follow a castrated version of Christianity.  No longer should we practice an empty religion in a church whose congregation has been built on the backs of their own effort.  It is far better to be in a congregation of a few fellow believers who have a whole-heart commitment to God, who are utterly dependent upon God at every turn, who have counted the cost to follow Christ and are willing to forsake this world and everything in it, and who have been supernaturally led together as a congregation by the Holy Spirit to truly walk-out what it means to be the Body of Christ– for better or for worse. We have to break free from the notion that it is we who determine what church we go to, and come to the realization that a church that is truly full of the Holy Spirit, is one which God has arranged by divine providence. The problem with the church today, is that we have lost faith in a God that big.

A.W. Tozer sums up this problem as such:
“Right now, we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead, are programs, methods, organizations, and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention, but can never satisfy the longings of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods, all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.”

Scripture is very clear as to Who draws people to God: “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets: ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.” (John 6:44,45). It is God Who prepares the soil of a person’s heart and mind to receive the truth of His message. God speaks, and we hear, learn and follow. God draws, we surrender. And we surrender because God gives us the ability to do so. This is God’s business model. Which means, if it is God Who is drawing someone to salvation and/or church fellowship, then there is nothing that will keep them from it. Not even a controversy worth being crucified for.

“My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom–but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” (1 Cor 2:4-6).

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Business As Usual

The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ will not return until the apostasy happens, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to Him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…” (2 Thess 2:1-3).

Suffice it to say, for all those watching for Christ’s return, we should have an understanding of what we should be looking for. The Greek word the Apostle Paul uses in this verse is “APOSTASIA”, which means rebellion, desertion, to leave or depart, to forsake, or to defect from. It is translated several different ways including, “the falling away”, “the apostasy”, “the rebellion”, “a revolt”, and “a departure”. It is from the Greek word “APHISTEMI”, which means to draw away, to cause to withdraw from, to seduce away or to shun, leave or let go.

Unfortunately, scripture does not tell us the circumstances for the APOSTASIA, but the word is used one other time in the New Testament at Acts 21:21. The Apostle Paul had been preaching the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the Jews accused Paul of forsaking, abandoning, or turning away from the Law of Moses. So the context of this word can be understood as something that causes entire denominations to forsake, leave, or let go of basic tenets of their faith. Something that causes a great division in the church. Something that causes brothers and sisters in Christ to turn against each other, one side standing on the truth of God’s word, the other side turning away from the truth of God’s word. Compromise versus uncompromise.

Many people in Jesus’ day said “I can follow You this far, and no further.” They turned away when He didn’t meet their expectations. They turned away when He was leading them somewhere they didn’t agree with or couldn’t understand, “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.” (John 6:66). Today, entire denominations are falling away into apostasy, churches are splitting apart, brothers and sisters in Christ are turning against each other, because they follow Christ until they get to His laws about sexual immorality, then they say, “I can follow You no further.”  So they devise their own version of Christianity and follow that.  Compromise versus uncompromise.

Prophecy is unfolding before our eyes and many cannot even see it.  As we go on with our business-as-usual mindset, many of us are part of this prophesied APOSTASIA and we don’t even realize it.  We like to say that Satan is the great deceiver, but if truth be told, “self” is the greatest deceiver of them all. God is at work, bringing about the culmination of this present age.  Satan is also at work, either getting us all wrapped up in our emotions or crippling us with apathy, so that we are blind to the hour at hand. And that hour is very, very late indeed, because the rest of 2 Thess 2:3 says, Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first….and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He will oppose and exalt himself above every so-called god or object of worship. So he will seat himself in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

I have come to realize that I am in error when I say that judgment is coming to this nation, because judgment is already here. We are already living through God’s judgment upon our waywardness and lukewarm commitment to Him, because He is simply allowing us to reap what we’ve sown in this nation. He is allowing us to drink the cup of the maddening wine of our adulteries (Rev 14:8; Rev 18:3; Jer 51:7). As the world continues to fall apart all around us– and make no mistake, it will continue to get increasingly worse– how many of us will be able to weather the storm with our flawed perceptions of God?

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another… But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matt 24:9-13)

“For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.’ Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Pour her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torment and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit enthroned as queen. I am not a widow; I will never mourn.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” (Rev 18:3-8)

The 0.01%

As I continue my study of the Book of Jeremiah, my endearment for the prophet grows. I long to travel back in time and sit across from him, holding his hands in mine, looking into his sorrowful and fretful eyes and tell him, “I understand you.” I want to tell him, “I get it.” You see, Jeremiah was the last prophet God sent to the nation of Israel before He brought judgment against them. He was the last voice crying out to his countrymen for repentance, before God utterly destroyed them for their rebellion.

At that time, the people of Israel defined their relationship with God by their lukewarm religious effort, rather than any consistent personal pursuit of His presence. They were more-so Jews in concept, rather than Jews in actual practice. They had adopted many of the customs of their pagan neighbors, to the point that you couldn’t tell apart most Jews in that day from their pagan neighbors. Their worship of God consisted of a watered-down, perverted version of the actual precepts God had given them to live by. Similar to today, the way most Christians live their lives, you can’t really tell apart believers from unbelievers. Similar to many Christians today, the Israelites reasoned that they were part of the nation that God called His own, they were descendants of Abraham, they were God’s people, He would never bring judgment upon them, no matter how they lived their lives. But one of the problems with spiritual nakedness is that a person thinks they belong to God simply by association, rather than by personal relationship. And any personal relationship they might have with God consists mostly of outward religious acknowledgment, rather than any inward spiritual change.

2500 years later, Christianity has come full circle, right back to where our spiritual predecessors found themselves before their nation was utterly destroyed by God’s judgment upon them. Scripture tells us that Israel is to be an example to us, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did… Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:5-12).

Jeremiah is called “The Weeping Prophet” because he not only knew of God’s impending judgment, but also because no matter how hard he tried, the people would not listen. Israel had become so used to being around sin, so used to compromise, that most of them couldn’t see any reason for them to repent. They lived busy, bustling lives that focused more on themselves than on God–which is idolatry in its most base form. They stopped putting God first and replaced Him with an image they had made up of Him in their own mind. A god that would not make them feel guilty or convict them of sin. They worshiped the image of God they had made up in their own mind, rather than Who God actually is– this is another form of idolatry.

At that time, the Israelites lived lives that were almost completely devoid of any real sense of God’s fearsome wrath toward rebellion and sin. And as history records, God finally gave them over to their idolatry and spiritual nakedness and by the time Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah in 586 B.C., the Israelites had resorted to cannibalism–eating their own children to stay alive–during the two-year long siege against Jerusalem. The last king of Jerusalem was forced to watch his own sons executed, before having his eyes gouged out so the last thing he would ever see was the death of his own sons.

I get Jeremiah because he was given the task of delivering an unpopular and convicting message that caused him mental and emotional anguish. Not only because of its dooming and negative quality, but also because his message made him despised by his own people.  Jeremiah prophesied during a time that everyone did what they thought was right in their own eyes and his constant warning of judgment annoyed them.  I get Jeremiah because he prophesied during a time in which his countrymen, those who were supposed to be his brothers and sisters in the Lord, saw him as their enemy simply because he spoke truth.

No one wanted to hear anything Jeremiah had to say because they had no desire to examine themselves or the way they were living their lives because their spiritual nakedness gave them a false sense of security. 99.9% of the people in Jeremiah’s day made excuses for why they allowed spiritual compromise into their life, rather than humbling themselves in obedience to God’s holy standard. It takes great humility and strength of character to pray, Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me…  point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23,24). Only about 0.01% have the humility and strength to pray such a prayer and submit to God’s answer. Be the 0.01%.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7:14)

“You will be hated by everyone on account of My name, but the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22)

“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt 24:10-13)

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36) “For it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God, and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And if it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17,18)

More Than A Feeling

One of the ways the devil likes to gain a foothold into our lives, is through our emotions.  He is intimately acquainted with our vulnerability to our own emotions.  This is why our feelings cannot define our relationship with God, because our feelings change from day to day.  But God never changes.  This is also why our feelings cannot dictate our response to God’s truth.  Because His truth doesn’t change either.

However, one of the greatest weapons in our enemy’s arsenal is our emotions.  If he can appeal to our emotions, if he can get us wrapped up in them, distracted by them, and ultimately consumed by them, then he has gotten his foot into the door of our heart.  He has gained access into our lives to begin building a foundation of lies.  He’s done this with many things the Bible calls sinful, but that the world has tried to excuse.  He has ensnared us into complacency by appealing to our emotions.  He has so crippled us with lies, that we do not have ears to hear the truth.

Any weakness we may have toward something that the Bible defines as sinful, does not serve to redefine it.  Nor does it mean that we can’t love those who have weaknesses toward certain sins, but it does mean that our love for them cannot redefine what the Bible considers sinful.  For many, this may be a hard truth to bear, but it is truth nonetheless.

One thing I know, is that we live in a time in which we need more voices crying out in the wilderness to, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” (John 1:23).

We need more disciples who will preach repentance, “They went out and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:12).

We need more watchmen on the wall who will not keep silent, “I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent..” (Isaiah 62:6).

But alas, the Church is wounded.  We are eaten up with compromise, rebellion and pride.  We are slaves to our emotions, giving our allegiance to what we feel, rather than to what God says.

“For this people’s heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.'” (Matt 13:15)

“But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Luke 16:30,31)

“But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like stone so as not to obey the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets;” (Zech 7:11,12)

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17)

“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?  I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind…to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (Jer 17:9,10)