"Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire..."
I was dancing around in a living room of people I hardly knew, because there was no way I could sit still! My ministry was finished at a mainline denominational church camp, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself. For the first time in months I didn't feel "wrung out." Often I would return from weekend meetings absolutely exhausted. Sue, my wife, would meet me at the airport, drive me home and put me into bed. But this weekend had been quite different. These people had not been to the Squeeze the Preacher school, and had let me off with an amazing three meetings in the whole weekend. Now the camp was over and I was being shown my lodging for the Sunday night.
After seeing my room I made my way to an upstairs living room. The view was magnificent. Through the large window I gazed at the harbor below and watched as the sun seemed to dance on the water. I sat down in an armchair and took a look around. A footstool, the view, a large television, a stereo...and now the hostess eostess entered the room with a cup of hot chocolate and a plate full of fresh home baking. This place was made for Comfort. Ease consumed me. I reached out to take one of the offered goodies when suddenly, much to my shock and the surprise of the woman, I jumped out of my seat like a frog on a blistering hot-plate. I turned around to see a yellow and black bee crawling around the seat of the armchair. I had been squarely stung on the hindermost part! I was in too much pain to be overly embarrassed. As I jumped about the room, my only consolation was the thought, "There's got to be a sermon in this." Some years before, I had prayed a most dangerous prayer. I asked the Lord to cause things to happen in my life which I could use as sermon illustrations. At this point of time I regretted that request.
However, it wasn't long until I saw the application. I am convinced that God wants the complacent Laodicean Church to rise up on its feet! For too long we have sat in ease and comfort. We have sat back in affluence and said, "I am rich, and have need of nothing," and if it takes the sting of God's chastening hand to cause the Church to stand upright, may it come quickly. Charles Spurgeon said, "God save us from living in comfort while sinners are sinking into Hell!" Whitefield said, "The Christian world is in a deep sleep; nothing but a loud shout can awaken them out of it!" Catherine Booth, the gentle co-founder of the Salvation Army, regarding church buildings said, "A barracks is meant to be a place where real soldiers were to be fed and equipped for war, not a place to settle down in or as a comfortable snuggery in which to enjoy ourselves. I hope that if ever they, our soldiers, do settle down God will burn their barracks over their heads!"
The Withered Hand
In Luke Chapter 6, the religious leaders were seeking an accusation against Jesus. We pick up the story in verse 6:
According to the Dallas Morning News (June 11, 1994) 68% of professing Christians outside of the "Bible Belt" don't see evangelism as being the number one priority of the Church. In the same year, the Barna Research Group found that among American adults who said they were "born again," 75% couldn't even define the Great Commission. Think about that for a moment. A survey in Christianity Today (a major evangelical magazine), only 1% of their readership said that they had witnessed to someone "recently." That means that 99% of their readership could say that they were "hot" or "cold" when it comes to concern for the fate of the ungodly. They were just "lukewarm." In 1992, over 3,000 churches from a mainline denomination didn't report even one soul saved in that year.
The "right hand" of the Body of Christ is withered. The hand, which is supposed to be moved with and by compassion, is not pulling sinners from the fire, hating even the garments spotted by the flesh (Jude 22-23). The Church is asleep in the light. we have lost sight of our commission. The agenda, the plan of attack, the reason for the battle has been lost under a cloud of apathy. The right hand of the Body of Christ hangs limp at its side, but I am persuaded that God is saying, "Arise, stand forth in the midst and stretch forth your hand." When this takes place, all of those who are truly part of the Body will arise in urgent, militant, bold, zealous evangelism. When we stand forth in the midst and stretch forth our hand we will begin to see that glorious, spotless, victorious Church, Jesus is coming back for. This is the fiery Church we see in the Book of Acts--a far cry from the what we see in the Church of today.
We have become like a frog in a bowl of water. The water has slowly been frozen, and the frog not able to detect the drop in temperature, has remained in the water until it is trapped in ice. The evangelical Church has become snared in the ice-cold grip of contemporary traditionalism. It involves itself in everything but the purpose for which it was established--to reach out to the lost with the Gospel of salvation. It has neglect the Great Commission. It calls Jesus Lord, but has left Him standing at its door and is in danger of being spewed out of His mouth. The old tongue in cheek idiom "God's chosen frozen," may not be doctrinally sound.
Fight the Good Fight of Faith
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he wrote in military terms--"Fight the good fight of faith," "Endure hardness as a good soldier," etc. He wanted to remind Timothy that we are involved in a battle, a conflict. We are a friend of God and therefore an enemy of the world. It is time for the trumpet to give a certain sound that the Church will prepare itself for battle. The Lord said to Israel, "And if you go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresses you, then you shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and you shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies" (Numbers 10:9). We must sound the alarm to remind the Church of the battle. Either we take hold of shield and buckler and fight with the weapons God has issued, or we wither and die.
I love the structure of the Salvation Army, with its barracks, soldiers, uniforms and its generals. General Booth formed that army of fiery believers so that they should never forget that they were involved in spiritual conflict. Satan has not declared peace with the Church, yet the Church acts as if he has. Men of God such as C.H. Spurgeon never lost sight of the spirit of militancy. In reference to inspired preaching he said, "Surely there is no weapon so powerful as that which is taken from the armory of inspiration." There will be no peace on this earth until the Prince of Peace comes in power and great glory at the sound of the last trumpet, blown by the very cavalry of Calvary. Then, peace will only come after God has judged the rebels of Adam.
Like A Mighty Tortoise
Over the years, I have been trying to find out how many within the Body of Christ are involved in personal witnessing, and have come up with (by the showing of hands), the sad statistic of less than 10 percent. I have asked, "How many of you can say before God that you have witnessed verbally to more than 12 people over the past 12 months? That is, at least every 30 days or so somebody who is sitting in the shadow of death has heard the Gospel of everlasting life from your lips?" I have found that only 8-12 percent will raise their hands. Where is the zeal? Jesus said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8, italics added). The Holy Spirit wasn't given without purpose in mind. He was given that we might have power for the purpose of being witnesses of Christ. So many profess to possess the power, yet where is the evidence? It would seem that the fear of battle has left many a soldier cringing in the barracks. They are afraid to let their light shine before men because they know that men hate the light. Yet, it is a natural principle that when light shines darkness flees. Darkness cannot overcome light. Try it. Switch on some darkness and see if the light leaves, then try it the other way around. "Gross darkness" only covers this earth because the Church has not obeyed the admonition to "arise and shine."
Some years ago, a traditional church dropped "Onward Christian Soldiers" from their song index because it made reference to war. That's understandable for people who have never been born again. War is that last thing on their minds. They are "peace makers" meeting in a building which they think is the "church." They are not born of the Spirit, so they live in a natural world. They are spiritually insensitive because they are spiritually dead. The world may think there is peace between man and God, but the Bible makes it clear that unregenerate man is an enemy of God in his mind through wicked works, that anyone who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God (Colossians 1:21, Romans 5:10, Romans 8:7 and James 4:4). Yet, many within the Church have lost sight of this important truth, something evident by their passive lifestyle. We have become like the Dead Sea. It is dead because it has water flowing into it, but no outlet. The water has become so salty, a human being can't sink into it. Nothing lives in it, no one can penetrate it...it seems that God made it as a type of the contemporary Church.
Useless though it seems, the Dead Sea contains very valuable minerals, which are waiting to be harvested. So does the modern Church. It is a field which is white unto harvest, both for souls and for laborers. Perhaps much of the Evangelical Church needs to consider dropping "Onward Christian Soldiers" and replacing it with something more appropriate:
We need to ask ourselves: Are we hot for God? Could you say that you have witnessed to more than 12 people in the last 12 months? Do we have the testimony "to live means opportunities for Christ?" Is there a zeal to witness burning in our bones? It doesn't matter how much we pray, tithe, fellowship ...Jesus said to "Go." Obedience is better than sacrifice. Sure, those things are essential, but if we are not witnessing we are not fulfilling our commission. We are like survivors of the Titanic singing songs and we clean the lifeboat, when there is room for many who are drowning around us. We are commissioned officers. True Christianity is not a pleasure-cruiser on its way to Heaven, but a battle-ship stationed at the very gates of Hell!
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