Archive for September, 2020

I remember back on September 11, 2001. I was pastoring in Ashland, OH and was working from the house—and I got phone calls from both of my daughters who were in college in Cleveland, TN. (At the time, our son was a high school student in Ashland.) Because I am not much a news watcher, I had no idea what was taking place, but as both daughters called me, and because they were eight hours away, I suddenly was tremendously aware, alert, scared, and didn’t know what to do – but I was praying up quickly.

It was a terrorist attack on US soil.

And many of us know exactly where we were and what we were doing at the moment.

But again, for me, I was most immediately concerned about my two precious daughters that I could not help nor could I be with them in less than eight hours (and if you remember, there was no air travel for then and the next few days.)

I was aware.

I was alert.

I was scared.

And I didn’t know what to do.

So I did what we all did in that moment.

I prayed.

And I opened up our church and called for a time of prayer for our Ashland community.

And people came.

And people united.

And people prayed.

for a few days

and then life kind of went back to normal—at least as far as church, and prayer, and unity were all concerned.

But for those few days, the indications of revival poked their heads through the soil.

For those few days, unity was important .

For those few days, God was corporately noticed again in our community.

It took a heart-stopping tragedy to get our attention.

It took a moment of apparent eternal destiny to cause us to focus on God.

for a few days.

And things went back to normal (somewhat)

I wonder if it is innate within us that we require tragedy to cause us to focus on God.

I wonder if a date with destiny must be obviously in front of us to compel us to pray with everything within us.

These are a few thoughts to ponder as I present this Scripture to you all—and I ask—what’s it going to take—to get us to pray with such fervor again?

I am praying for revival

For me

for our church

and for our land

Will you join me in prayer?

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV).

Please take several minutes and read this timely message by my friend, Adam Hunter (MSW, LSW, CIC-CSp.). I think it is a timely word for the American Church in 2020. Jim

The Message to the Church in Ephesus

1“Write this letter to the angela of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

2“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

4“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!b 5Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. 6But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.

7“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.

2020: What a year it’s been so far as the chaos continues to snowball.

 First, we are plagued by an incurable virus that seemingly comes out of nowhere, causing death and devastation to millions worldwide.  Out of panic and confusion, decisions are made to stop life as we have always known it, and to make radical changes and sacrifices for the good of humanity.  The economy practically stops altogether except for a few “essential businesses”, leading to a skyrocketing jump in unemployment.  Commodities become rationed as people begin to stockpile, not knowing what’s going to happen next.  We are ordered as a country to not leave our houses, but if we absolutely have to wear masks to protect ourselves and others.  We’re told that the spike in sickness and death to come from this virus needs flattened as soon as possible, and therefore nothing is off the table as far as what measures need taken to protect us all.

If things couldn’t get any worse, a black man is killed by one of the “good guys”, a police officer on duty.  This outrageous act is caught on camera for the whole world to see, and it is indeed horrific.  African-Americans are furious, as it is (understandably going all the way back to Jim Crow) built into their cultural narrative that law enforcement overall should never really be trusted.  Their anger builds into explanations: Since slavery, those in power—white people—have consistently put minorities “in their proper place” even when it would otherwise appear significant progress has been made.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s may have seemed to solve overt racism, but nothing has really changed.  The white man continues to keep in place structures and institutions that keep black folks’ down, all the while he denies doing so.  “Racism is behind us,” he might say, but in truth it has only gone underground.

From centuries of repressed anger and frustration towards white people, protests begin to break out—not peaceful demonstrations calling for further healing and reconciliation but riots; the burning down of businesses; the confrontations with innocent bystanders; the fights and killings in the name of social justice; the take over of cities by anarchists while law enforcement is ordered by their local officials to stand down.  And if anyone—black or white—takes a stand to call for civility, they are called “Uncle Toms” or “White supremacists”, two of the harshest things to label Americans.

Moving slightly forward in time, some states begin loosening quarantine mandates by gradually allowing businesses and other entities to reopen, but they are required to adhere to strict guidelines for health and safety.  Other states, however, hardly loosen their “stay at home” orders at all, and things continue to spiral downward for the average family.

But, although these health mandates stay in place, questionable exceptions start taking place and other forms of discrimination seem to appear.  Whereas public places—including schools and churches—are still required to adhere to social distancing guidelines or remain closed altogether, the protesters on the streets—at times thousands of them in close proximity to each other—are free to carry forth their violent acts with no concerns of any repercussion or spreading the coronavirus.

Some places that are feeling the greatest effects of the chaos are trying to peaceably resist, or call for a better way—particularly Christians.  In California, for instance, where churches are still required by law to remain closed, some are defying authority and opening their doors for services despite legal action being taken against them.  Worship services have also been taken to outdoor areas where—although they are still being scrutinized for placing people at-risk—many un-churched and in the pit of despair are hearing and accepting the Gospel message.  Lives are being changed in the midst of the darkness.  In the worst affected areas, pockets of revival are breaking forth.

Throughout our country, where fear, desperation, and anger continue to grow amongst its citizens, common people on both sides of the political aisle look around them and realize that something isn’t right:  “Why are things turning the way they are?  Whose fault is it?  Clearly it has to be those in political office.”  Those on the right go onto say, “Thank God Donald Trump is in office; he’s been chosen by God for such a time as this.”  Those on the left retort, “If it weren’t for Donald Trump and his supporters, we wouldn’t be in this mess.  It’s their fault.”

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.

            It is often said that history repeats itself, and amazingly enough that seems to be true.  As Solomon once said, “Nothing is new under the sun,” and those wise words make perfect sense.  Replace the characters and shift the circumstances a bit, but the plot remains the same.  And instead of learning from our mistakes of the past, we continue to do what we always have done, digging ourselves even further into a hole.

            America has always been an exceptional place, but not because it’s necessarily better than any other country.  “America is great, because America is good;” the sole reason for this is building itself upon the reliance of God.  Now, at different times throughout its history, it lost sight of this and wound up in horrible places.  But just before what would otherwise be its final curtain, its citizens would wise up and cry out to Him for deliverance, and through grace alone He would intervene and give another chance to do what is right.

            The freedoms and blessings we have experienced as a nation have been unprecedented, along with the material comforts most all of us enjoy.  Many times, however, it seems that these very things God has blessed us with are what also lead us to our downfall.  We seem to think that the wealth we have created, and the prosperity we have built has come mostly from ourselves and primarily from those we put into political office.  When things start going awry, we start looking for immediate solutions.  We quickly realize that it’s beyond our control, so we look for a “Strongman” to come to the rescue.  We typically put them into political office in order to fix the messes, but oftentimes the messes only get bigger and bigger.

            Particularly for Christians in America, it’s easy to point fingers and say that our elected officials are the ones really to blame, alongside the cultural decay we see around us from those who are antithetical to Judeo-Christian principles.  They are inflicted with demons—we say—and we need to stand for what’s right; we need to fight like crazy to combat the enemy, and put into political office godly men and women who can change our course for the better.

            In 2016, much of the Evangelical base helped vote in someone who went against the grain.  He took stands like no other President, and became the Church’s champion to fight for our rights.  And, although he is belligerent and uncouth, and while we would never treat our opponents the way he treats them through trash talk and bullying, for Donald Trump, it’s OK.  You see, like wicked King Cyrus who God used to deliver the Israelites from destruction, it’s clearly His will to use Trump to deliver we Christians and make the Church great again.

            But it’s now 4-years into Trump’s first term in office.  For his first 3-years many believed the sky was the limit for the good that was being done; however, once 2020 arrived, in only a matter of moments everything turned on its head.  Now, we have Election Day fast approaching.  Whether Trump will continue in office is anyone’s guess.  There is much fear, particularly within many Evangelical circles that if Trump loses, it will be the end of America as we’ve always known it.  All hope would be lost.  But considering how 2020 has turned out with Trump in office, who’s to say that even if he is re-elected more bad things won’t happen?

            In chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, Jesus addressed the different established churches of that time.  He cited both good and bad in all of them.  He encouraged them to continue doing what was right.  He even spoke about challenges each congregation was up against and how they were handling them; he didn’t simply speak in generalities (which speaks volumes in itself about Him being fully aware of all that was going on).  But for those churches that were in the wrong—that had allowed sin to creep in—he called them back to repentance.

            As history and circumstances repeat themselves, so, too, the situations these churches found themselves in are like those that churches in other eras have endured.  Even today, what these churches experienced can be compared to others throughout the world facing the exact same thing.  So, how do the churches in our own country stand in light of this?

One of the churches Jesus chose to address was in Ephesus.  At first, he spoke highly of them

I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting (Rev. 2:3).

But after stroking them with rightly deserved platitudes, He hit them between the eyes:  “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  Look how far you have fallen!” (Rev. 2:4-5a).

Bam!  That was a shot across the bow that I’m guessing they didn’t expect was coming!  In present terms, they’d been doing their daily devotions, going to church every Sunday, participating in outreach and ministry, and tithing regularly.  But yet, they ended up missing the mark.  They lost the love and passion they once had in serving God. 

Now, there’s nothing stated specifically on how the Ephesians had lost their “First Love”, or what changes in their behaviors or perceptions led to this happening.  All we know is that it was enough to get the attention of the One whom they were serving.  “Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches” (Rev. 2:5b).  Wow.  That’s some serious stuff right there.  Jesus was saying if they didn’t straighten up and fly right, He was going to remove His Spirit from them; they were essentially going to die off.

So, I now pose the question to the Church in America (myself included): Have we, too, lost our First Love?  Did we become so relaxed in our comforts we began believing we did all these good things ourselves, and that it was not God Himself that brought it to fruition?  And once we saw the bottom start to fall out, we became panicked; and, instead of crying out to God, out of fear we began bashing and ridiculing the other side behind the safety of our electronic devices; we divided further into groups and separated ourselves from each other.  (You don’t love me or EACH OTHER as you did at first!) It never occurred to us that all along we should have been dying to ourselves and putting Him first in all things, just as we longed to do when we first asked Him into our lives.  Instead, we ended up looking towards the idols of power—our elected officials—and cried out to them for help.

So, where does that leave us?  “Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”  Through the eyes of the Gospel, there are things more important than experiencing freedoms found within the Bill of Rights, or even the most impoverished American enjoying materialistic comforts that those in other parts of the world can only dream of (although all of those are indeed wonderful and gifts from God).  Matthew 22:37-40 states Christ’s primary expectations of us

 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Where do our priorities lie?  What if we at least had attitudes like the persecuted Christians in China, who tell us Westerners not to pray that their repression would stop, but that God would continue to use those circumstances to lead others to Him? 

Part of my premise in writing this is not to discourage political activism, electing the right people into office, fighting for what is true and just, or especially to discount our beloved United States Constitution.  All those have been things to make America the wonderful place it is.  But, in a situation like we face now in our country—perhaps the darkest place since its inception—we need to first allow the Holy Spirit to search us, try us, and see if there be any wickedness in us.  If there is, we must repent of it, for the sake of our own relationship with God, others within the Body of Christ, and particularly for those who don’t yet know Christ but are desperate to find Him.  Once that happens, we will truly be empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk blameless in His sight.

If we turn from our wicked ways, does that mean that our nation overall will turn around, and that we will experience peace and prosperity again?  Political and economic rest has never been promised or guaranteed, so that is a a great unknown.  But, the Bible is clear that He will come heal our land spiritually, and Revival—perhaps even a Third Great Awakening—will occur; that is what’s most important.  That’s what makes up the Law and the Prophets.

Search me, O God, and know my heart today,

try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
see if there be some wicked way in me;
cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;

send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;

for blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

Cleanse Me, a hymn by Dr. J. Edwin Orr, of whom Billy Graham called “one of the greatest authorities on the history of revivals in the Protestant world”.