He came from nowhere. No warning, no advanced notice, nothing. One day, he just showed up and spoke a few words that brought an entire nation to its knees… literally. Without any fanfare, pedigree, entourage or press agent, this strangely-clad man with intense, piercing eyes stood among the lunchtime traffic, raised his arms, and bellowed:
“As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”*
And just like that, the sky dried up, the three and a half year drought began, and our lives were changed forever. Thus was our introduction to Elijah the prophet— the Elijah of Mount Carmel fame.
You must understand that a drought in Elijah’s day was much different than a drought today. There was no water rationing or voluntary restrictions. There were no, “You may wash your car on even numbered days and water your lawn on odd numbered days”— type of official pronouncements. No, it was nothing like that.
A drought in Elijah’s day meant crop failures, the death of all livestock, systemic famine, and disease that ran unchecked among a starving population. It meant that people, innocent people— the young and old and infirmed, died. It meant the loss of homes and farms and families and futures.
It meant an economic upheaval many times worse than the Great Depression or the plagues of Europe. Drought brought prolonged suffering to tens of thousands of people with no end in sight. It led to hopelessness, depression, despair, and suicide.
When Elijah spoke those 26 words of divine judgment he literally pronounced a death sentence on their society and culture.
But, why? What was his reason for shutting up the sky for an indeterminate amount of time? What was he trying to accomplish by calling for the destruction of Ahab’s kingdom? What was Elijah, and God, trying to do?
You know the answer. As the late Paul Harvey would say, “And you know the rest of the story.” Elijah was hoping to bring the land of Israel to repentance and back into fellowship with the God of the land— the God they had long ago rejected and abandoned. He was hoping, once the people of the land were stripped of their pride, sin and self-sufficiency, they would repent “in dust and ashes” and be drawn back into a dependant relationship with the Creator of the land.
Elijah’s goal was not destruction, but repentance. And that’s just what happened in 1 Kings 18.
Did it ever dawn on you that, like Elijah of old, God may have some of His holy ones praying for judgment to fall on America in order to bring her back to repentance? That maybe, after a three year drought, we as a nation may experience our own Mount Carmel encounter with God?
Remember the words of Elijah to the nation of Israel, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” * In other words, now is the time to choose… for them and for us.
Are you praying for the same? Should you be? Should I?
*1 Kings 17:1; 18:21
Listen while we look at Praying for Judgment to Fall on America. This is a study of Revelation 14:8-11.
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The doctrine known as eternal security or the perseverance of the saints is one of the cornerstones of Reformed Theology. It can be defined as follows:
The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly (the operative word) born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again. *
For the Calvinist, it is the “P” in their TULIP acronym.
T – Total Depravity. Man is fallen in nature and, therefore, in total depravity. This means that (1) man cannot do anything or any work that is good, (2) man cannot, by his nature, comprehend what is good, and (3) man cannot have, by virtue of his fallen nature, any desire for good. He is totally depraved.
U – Unconditional Election. This can be defined, according to the Puritans, as such:
Unconditional Election is defined in this manner: God did, by His most wise and holy counsel, of His own, freely and unchangeably ordain some men to heaven and some men to hell by the nature of His good pleasure. In eternity, God has predetermined the course of everything and everyone. He had foreordained the eternal destiny of everyone whether to heaven or to hell for His glory. Men are unconditionally elected by God for His purposes without any prior works (good or evil) by which God would judge them good or evil. The election of men rests solely on the counsel and purposes of God. God has not decreed anything which he foresaw in the future, for that would place His decree upon foreseeing something in the creature.
L – Limited Atonement. In a nutshell, this means that Christ’s death actually paid for the sins of those whom He knew would ultimately be saved— for the elect. In essence, God imposed His wrath, and Christ paid the penalty for the sins of:
1. All the sins of all men— which would mean that all men are saved, which we know is not the case.
2. Some of the sins of all men— which would mean that men are still in their sins.
3. All of the sins of some men— the elect, the chosen, those He foreknew and predestined from the foundation of the world— which is the Biblical position. Hence, limited atonement.
I – Irresistible Grace. Which is a term that refers to the fact that when God calls a person He also gives them regeneration, both of which guarantee that we will respond in saving faith. In other words, when the Spirit of God moves in the heart to change a person, that person will be changed. Period.
P – Perseverance of the Saints. This is one area in which many evangelical Christians have differed over the years. Many within the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition have held that it is possible for someone who is truly (again, the operative word) born again to lose that salvation. Reformed Christians have held, and rightly so, that it is impossible for someone who is truly born again to lose their salvation.
But did you know the book of Revelation has something to say about the controversial “P” point in the TULIP acronym? Actually, it has much to say about election, the sovereignty of God and eternal security or the perseverance of the saints.
Take a look at the following two passages of Scripture:
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long , O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. – Revelation 6:9-11
Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” – Revelation 14:12-13
* Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, page 788.
Do you see what I see? Do you see what the Lord is teaching us about the perseverance of His saints?
The following is a podcast from April of 2009 that deals with those very issues. It is a study on Revelation 14:12-13.
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Ephesus. The first of seven letters the Lord wrote to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Remember? Do you know what the name Ephesus means? It means beloved. It carries with it the sense of love – but not just any kind of love. Ephesus conveys the kind of love you have for your spouse. Passionate. Trusting. And above all else, faithful.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said,
“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” *
Ah, good words. A very good affirmation to a struggling, but loved church. Feels good to hear the Lord say that about them, doesn’t it.
But He also said this,
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” *
Uh, now that’s not a very good word from the Lord. It’s not a very good affirmation for a church that was beginning to slide from the heights where it once stood. And it doesn’t feel so good either. It hurts bad. Down deep. Down close to the heart.
But there was more…
“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.” *
And from there the letters get, with one exception, progressively worse. Until we reach the letter to the Laodiceans.
Laodicea. Do you know what Laodicea means? Sadly, it means, “the people rule” or “the rule of the people.” Far cry from beloved, isn’t it. And therefore the Lord said to them:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” *
By the way, the term “spit” in our vernacular means something more like vomit. Projectile vomit.
What happened? Can what happen to the seven churches also happen to us as individual believers? You bet your sweet Bible it can! And it has!
You do know, don’t you, that the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 accurately picture all of church history in startling detail? But did you also know that the same seven letters also paint a sad, harrowing portrait of a church’s, or an individual Christian’s, slide from spiritual fervency to… well, lukewarmness. From being the beloved to being what the Lord vomits out of His mouth. Ouch.
Let me suggest you take the time and study the seven letters of Jesus to the church today. It will change you life… guaranteed.
* Revelation 2:2-3, 4, 5; 3:15-16
The following are a list of concerns, complaints, problems, and heart-felt cries of anguish that many Baptist pastors submitted to the question: “What are some of the problems you face being a pastor?”
The results of this anonymous post are chilling. Read and consider how you view and, more importantly, treat your pastor. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only list three of them.
I suppose my problem, or perhaps my heartache, is a seeming lack of understanding my church has of spiritual things, even those things I have taught on. For instance, we recently did a study of the book of Revelation; we spent about four months on it, going through it chapter by chapter, verse by verse. We do it in a somewhat informal setting, to allow for questions and further explanations in difficult areas, (which is, I guess, about all of it). To help, I illustrated many things to give a visual aspect for further understanding, as well as lots of hand-outs to take home, and so forth. At the end of the study, I decided to see how well the information sunk in, so I gave a 12 question quiz. Sadly, not one could even tell me how long the Great Tribulation period would be, with answers ranging from 10-1,000 years. My questions were very basic, nothing hard: Who are the 144,000? How long is the Millennial reign of Christ, (some got this one right)? What do the four horsemen represent? Things like this, that we went over and over.
Some of these folks have been in church for 50 years! What are they doing when the teaching is going on? They come, they sit, they open their Bibles, but nothing seems to get in. Sometimes I wonder why I spend the time when no one hears or responds. Hence, my heartache. Can’t even get them to read their Bibles on their own.
After 27 years of full-time ministry, the thing that troubles me the most is that I have come to the place where I know better than to trust anybody. Eventually, they all will turn on you, even if it is only for a short time, and even if they get right with you afterward. You cannot really rely on anyone. The only thing I trust everyone to do is to eventually betray my trust.
A pastor friend once said that the difference between the church member that loves you the most and the one that hates you the most is…… 10 years.
Pretty sobering, aren’t they?
Remember the words of Paul to his young son in the faith, Timothy:
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” – 1 Timothy 5:17.
This coming year, how about trying to be different when it comes to your pastor? After all, I think we’ve got enough people who love Jesus and hate church. The last thing we need is for those people to be behind the pulpit. Don’t you agree?
I have recently been reflecting on some things in our society, especially in the church, that seem so out of kilter. There are a couple of questions that have been rattling around in my head that have to do with what we are willing to sacrifice to achieve what our society has determined to be success. You know, “success” in the old “bigger means better” mantra popularized by Peter Drucker and the hordes of church grown entrepreneurs that have tried to merge secular management philosophy and Spirit-filled living. Uh, try again. Bad fit. Simply can’t be done.
Question: Why is the larger church deemed more desirable than the smaller church? Who made that call? Or, to put it another way, why are the Rick Warrens and the Bill Hybels and the Joel Osteens the mainstay of the “How to Do Church” conference circuit and the Robert Settles aren’t even allowed in the building? Oh, never heard of Robert Settle? I didn’t think so. He is just a Baptist pastor that recently retired after 50 plus years of faithful ministry. He never was at the helm of a large church, but he stood strong and finished the race well.
But obviously, that kind of legacy doesn’t attract a crowd, does it? Most mega-church wannabes are not interested in learning how to stay faithful over the long haul, but only about the latest tricks for quick, superficial growth.
“What kind of music really packs them in? Tomlin or Crowder?”
“What kind of movie clip do I use to illustrate my theme this week?”
“How can I give them what they want and still be out in under 55 minutes?”
“Aw heck, just tell me how to pack the house!”
Who said that mega-churches are more blessed by God than smaller ones? After all, it’s God’s blessing that really matters, right? “Well, mega-churches offer more programs to the people that go there. They have bigger facilities and their services are much better than the smaller church. You know, they have a better band and sound production.” In a word, correct. But is that what church is all about? More programs, bigger facilities and a better Sunday show?
It’s like the difference between Wal-Mart and your neighborhood grocery store. Wal-Mart offers almost an unlimited selection of stuff and it offers it at a better price. Joe the butcher on the corner of Fifth and Main simply can’t compete. He doesn’t have the room for all the stuff Wal-Mart can carry and he has to pay more wholesale than Wal-Mart does for the products that he does carry. Let’s face it, if price and selection is all you’re interested in, then Wal-Mart’s your best bet.
But for me, I love community. I like to know that Joe the butcher is, in fact, Joe the butcher. I like the fact that I know about his family and where he goes to church on Sunday. I like the fact that I can wave at him when our paths cross at our son’s Little League game and that he can wave back. I like knowing that Joe lives in the same town as I live in and that we are, by that fact alone, somewhat connected. Actually, we’re neighbors. And hopefully, someday, friends.
Can’t get that from Wal-Mart, can you. And you certainly can’t get that in a wannabe mega-church either.
Oh yea, bigger facilities, a Broadway style Sunday production with theme generated props, and a tight, well-rehearsed, “I really wanna be on the radio” worship band singing all the latest covers…
But community? No. You’ll not find community at Wal-Mart. And you’ll not find it at the local wannabe mega-church either. You’re just another number, another customer, another consumer of their religious wares. Herd ’em in, and herd ’em out. Everybody serving the machine.
I don’t know about you, but I want more out of church than that? Don’t you? I want to know the people I worship with? I want to know about their families, I want to have them over to my house, I want their kids to be friends with my kids. In other words, I want to live in community. Just like they did in the book of Acts.