In "my deep concern for the churches,"
Many times I've looked at the list of sufferings Paul endured for the Gospel. I know I've not come close to experiencing one one zillioneth of those things, yet at the end of that list in II Corinthians 11:28 we find this:
my deep concern for the churches (NKJV™)
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
I do have a deep concern, a daily pressure on me, for the Church. It's pretty much been a burden of mine since shortly after I was saved. I keep asking God where He wants me to serve Him, in what harvest field He wants me working, I want to be sure I'm not missing His cloud moving, so to speak, and invariably He keeps bringing me back to His Church. I know there is a danger of isolating myself and living in a Christian bubble, so I do experience tension over that, and know I can't exclusively limit myself to interactions with Christians. But yet today here I am again...in the harvest field...
I continue to find myself again and again back in that same harvest field, the Church. God keeps taking my heart there and my thoughts there. Yes, I've had that burden for a long time, but it's been intensifying as of late.
The other day I was reading "Pierced for Our Transgressions," a book which explains to us the glory of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. In the section about Isaiah 53, the authors quoted Romans 15:20-21, which refers back to Isaiah 53:
and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, 21 but as it is written,
Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.
As soon as I began to read verse 20, I stopped and paused:
thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation
That's been the ambition God has kept writing on my heart and putting in my mind more deeply over the past couple years. However, the place "not where Christ has already been named" is not what you think of as the standard mission field. In other words, God has not been giving me (not yet anyhow) an ambition to go to an unknown people group or some place where people have never literally heard the name of Jesus Christ spoken. What do I mean by that? The ambition God has been giving me is to go to the places where though Christ is technically being named, He's not truly
For example (please note: I certainly do see the plank in my own eye as I write these things, and I also know I've written many of these things previously):
- Churches where Christ may be named, but the people only assemble together because that's what their parents did and have no understanding of their faith.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but His Name is only used out of habit or tradition, there's no real vision of His glory.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but the cross is sugar-coated and held up as example of what a good man does, rather than as the necessary atonement to save condemned sinners.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but the cross is avoided for fear of offending someone since the goal is to have people coming away feeling good about themselves and the church.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but many ways of salvation are taught as being equally true, rather than Christ being lifted up as the way, the truth and the life.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but the primary goal is to make people happy rather than holy, therefore blatant sin is overlooked and the church ends up looking no different than the world.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but where more concern is given to growing the church rolls rather than growing disciples.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but people look forward more to the "food, fun and fellowship" afterwards than to the fellowshipping with the true God during the worship service, i.e.- they hunger far more for the potluck food than the living God.
- Churches where Christ may be named, where people look forward to the coffee hour but they consider it anathema the need to drink the cup of suffering in order to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but there exists a proud judgmentalism and a lack of love toward people outside the local church and that particular denomination.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but instead of counting the cost, all that seems to get counted is the weekly offering.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but He's only considered a good luck charm, a means to a bigger house or another car or two.
- Churches where Christ may be named, where the people are nice and polite but there's no boiling spirit and no real evidence of following hard after God or panting for Him.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but extravagant lovers of God and zealous Christians are considered on the fringe and are not really welcomed.
- Churches where Christ may be named, where His Name is sung and spoken on the lips, but there is no real heart worship.
- Churches where Christ may be named, where glorious hymns and songs exalting Him are sung, but no one really pays attention to the words anymore.
- Churches where Christ may be named, where the Scripture may be quoted verbatim, but it's never really pierced, cut and discerned the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but where people engage in lukewarm worship and then bust out the doors to get home to cheer on their favorite sports team with the great enthusiasm.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but where people worship for an hour (if that) all the while keeping their eyes on their watches after which it become obvious what gods they truly worship as they sit down on their sofas in front of their t.v.'s or scurry about carpooling children from activity to activity the rest of the day.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but where people come week in week out going through the motions since they feel they must meet their weekly obligation, and then, once they've done so, they feel safe and secure for another week should Jesus return in the meantime.
- Churches where Christ may be named, where people assemble and talk and sing of Jesus but then go their respective ways and neither talk to nor think of God nor their fellow church members until the following Sunday.
- Churches where Christ may be named, where correct doctrine may be taught and good creeds spoken, but there's no real life, there's no vitality.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but His Spirit is all but relegated to the role of a crazy uncle and only allowed out perhaps once a year in a sermon on Pentecost Sunday.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but there is no room made for His Spirit to work because everything is canned and preprogrammed and controlled by men.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but a false gospel of legalism prevails over a gospel of grace.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but rather than there being a spirit of freedom and peace, there is a spirit of bondage and fear.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but in reality men themselves are worshiped because morality and trying harder have replaced the preaching of the Gospel and the resurrection power available to the believer.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but outward morality is touted rather than inward transformation.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but in reality the false gospel of good works has usurped the gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
- Churches where Christ may be named, but having a particular political affiliation is made to be the litmus test for being a true Christian.
I don't know about you, but I see much of the Church in ruins.
(I wrote more about this here
So that's why God is calling me
to go there. I also know some of you also share this same vision and have this same burden. These churches are in need of revival.
Who will go to the Church which has the appearance of being alive but is dead?
Who will go to the Church which is lukewarm?
Who will go to the Church and feed and care for Jesus' sheep who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd?
Who will go to the Church which has stopped preaching the true Gospel of Christ and has substituted morality, outward conformity, legalism, patriotism, social activism and a host of other things for the glorious Gospel of Christ of which Paul was not ashamed:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...
Who will go?
To me, there's an untapped and wide-open mission field right at our feet. There are churches a dime a dozen here in the States, but how many of them are rightly rooted and God-glorifying and being the Church God has intended? How many of them are really dead and in need of God's reviving and renewing Spirit to fall fresh on them?
I'm not quite sure of the day or time when Romans 15:20 first hit my radar screen. I suspect it was via John Piper. The verse has been with me for quite a while now, but in the past week God has brought it back to me in a much more intense manner. Piper refers to this verse as Paul's "holy ambition." That reminds me of Paul's words to Timothy in II Timothy 2:
But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who are his, and, Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. 20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
I am the Lord's. Am I preparing myself for the Master's use alone? As God's grace works in me, am I cooperating with His Spirit to do all I can to be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work
? Am I willing to let Him use me to fulfill this holy ambition He has given me to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named
One thing I do know is that I am being consumed more and more by this ambition and at this point whatever "to live is Christ" really means, for me I have to say I can only live to the glory of God and truly enjoy Him forever and have peace with Him as I give myself wholly to have Him so He might fulfill this holy ambition in and through me, the
ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named...
If you are a Christian, you
are the Lord's. What holy ambition has God given you? (If you don't know, have you ever asked Him to give you one?) What are you doing about it? Are you setting yourself apart for the Master's use? As His grace works in you, are you ready to cooperate with His Spirit to do all you can to be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work
Yesterday I watched an interview with a woman who said the one thing she wanted to do before she died was to see Michael Jackson in concert. But now, since he died a few days ago, she is heartbroken since she can no longer fulfill that ambition.
That made me shake my head (and I hope it makes your head shake as well).
I would have to say that ambition was not holy.
God has saved us not so we can live to ourselves but to live to Him and to walk in the good works He has ordained for each one of us. We are to be redeeming the time for the days are evil. We don't know how much time we have left on the earth. All we can say for sure is that as each day passes, we have one day less to live for God and fulfill the holy ambition He has given us. A few hours before Michael Jackson died I wrote
that I'm fifty (the same age Jackson was when he died) and I want to keep pressing on and not become lukewarm. I don't know how much time I have left, but my desire is to keep pressing on until the end, and by God's grace when He returns I pray He will find me working diligently with my lamp full of oil.
While in England I had the opportunity to walk through a few graveyards. I intentionally wanted to find a gravestone of someone who died at age 50. It took a while but I finally found one.
"Sarah, Second Wife of RICHARD EMINSON of Londonthorpe Who Died June 30, 1837. AGED 50 YEARS."
I don't know how many days I have left here, but I don't want to squander them. Each day is a gift from God to be used to His glory.
Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12.
God gives each one of His children gifts and passions, burdens and holy ambitions. He gives each one of us work to be completed through His power, work to be done to His praise, honor and glory, work that will endure the fire. Each of us, each member of His Body has a vital and irreplaceable role in His Kingdom. We are each created for good works in Him. Your holy ambition may be different than mine, but be sure that God has given you one. I am praying He would give all of us the grace to continue to submit ourselves to Him and be obedient to His calling to us.
I have so much more I could write, but I would like to include here a prayer I posted at tent of meeting
(my blog for revival prayer) in response to my post "rend the Heavens, rend our hearts of complacency."Father, You know that I read this earlier today in the opening portion in Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret:
He [Taylor] put to the test the promises of God and proved it possible to live a consistent spiritual life on the highest plane. He overcame difficulties such as few men have ever had to encounter, and left was work which long after his death is still growing in extent and usefulness. Inland China opened to the Gospel largely as an outcome of this life, tens of thousands of souls won to Christ in previously unreached provinces, twelve hundred missionaries depending upon God for the supply of all their needs without a promise of salary...When I read this, I realized how small my vision is. How little I test Your promises. No, I am not called to China like Taylor, but I am called to the Church right here in the United States. You have continued to burden me with this ambition: to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named...not in the classic sense, but so that I might intercede for Your Church here and speak to Your Church here all the words of Your life, so Your Gospel might go and infiltrate those many places where Christ is not really named today, where His Name is but a byword or is spoken or sung only out of tradition or habit, those places where Your people have lost their first Love, those places which appear to be alive but are really dead.Enlarge my vision. Expand my faith. Increase my resolve. Rend the heavens and rend my heart of complacency!When I read those words, I thought, "Why can we not have tens of thousands of souls revived to Christ today in dead or dormant churches right here? "Why not indeed!You have so many sheep, sheep who are scattered and without shepherds, or have false shepherds or hirelings watching over them. You have so many sheep who need to be cared for and nursed back to health. They are limping and weak and weary and wandering. They are hungry and thirsty. Who will feed them? So many sheep who need to be revived again!Rend the heavens and enlarge my vision of what You can do.Rend the heavens and enlarge my vision of what You can do in and through me.Rend the heavens and rend my heart of complacency. I so often want to do the safe thing. But if I am concerned with safety I will never be open to doing whatever it may take to save many souls and impact Your Kingdom for eternity. Dare I say it? Yes, I must: increase my burden for I know I am still not constrained by Your love as I must be to go without reservation and in complete obedience to You.Rend the heavens and pour out Your Spirit on me once more.Rend the heavens and pour out Your Spirit on Your Church once more.Rend the heavens and revive tens of thousands of souls in Your church.Rend the heavens so Your people might return to You, their first Love.Will You not do this for Your Name's sake? Is not Your Name undergoing reproach because of the complacency, dryness, apathy and deadness in the Church? Will You not send Your fire and stir us once more for Your Name's sake? Will You not bring life to the dry bones? Will You not remember us, remember Your Church for Your precious Son's sake and have mercy upon us? Do not let us continue to be complacent and languish. Do not let me continue to be complacent and languish.Rend the heavens and rend my heart of complacency!Amen.
During this morning's worship we sung the hymn "I Surrender All" (Judson W. Van DeVenter, 1896). I don't even remember the last time I sung this, but I thought it fitting to conclude here with a portion of it as prayer of dedication for us:
All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.