Are today’s churches and Christians ready for the extreme nature of reformation churches? Is there any hope for revival in our lifetime?
This is a follow-up message to the one I released earlier today. I strongly encourage you to read it first, and watch a the video that you’ll find there. I share the future of Revival Church and the importance for reformation ministries in our cities. Check it out here in a new window: https://burton.tv/2014/11/30/the-burtons-future-and-revival-church-important-schedule-changes/
Are reformation churches ready for prime time?
Can we have reformation ministries? Yes.
Can we have reformation churches? I don’t think so. Not yet. And I doubt true revival can come without them.
We can have ministries staffed by a few radicals who will faithfully carry and release the burning messages of God. People like Leonard Ravenhill did this powerfully.
But, to gather a people who burn night and day with a spirit of reformation and revival into a reformation church culture is extremely difficult—finding those who are ready for a daily life of intense intercession, surrender and continual prophetic shocks to the system is even harder. The reformed church will strike and trouble every Believer, and this transitional season of moving from the old to the new wineskin is more costly than most are comfortable with.
Reformation requires bold prophetic voices that do more correcting than comforting, more rebuking than affirming and more commanding than suggesting. Yet, such voices are soundly rejected in today’s casual, sleepy, independent culture. Reformation churches led by people with a never-ending shock in their voice are rare today.
We need prophets who are more skilled at revealing the ancient truths and calling people to repentance than prophets who are more given to revealing the future and calling people to their conferences.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Jeremiah 23:16-17
The prophet in his day is fully accepted of God and totally rejected by men. The prophet is violated during his ministry, but he is vindicated by history. The prophet comes to set up that which is upset. His work is to call into line those who are out of line! He is unpopular because he opposes the popular in morality and spirituality. There is a terrible vacuum in evangelical Christianity today. The missing person in our ranks is the prophet. The man with a terrible earnestness. The man totally otherworldly. The man rejected by other men, even other good men, because they consider him too austere, too severely committed, too negative and unsociable. In a day of faceless politicians and voiceless preachers, there is not a more urgent national need than that we cry to God for a prophet! ~Leonard Ravenhill
Forerunners are prophetic messengers who blaze new trails and call out with passion to the remnant church to follow them into new territories, new models and new wine skins. They are awakeners who understand the urgency to gather the church on the other side of the Jordan River—away from the old and familiar and into the land of promise. This type of advance requires a new form of leadership, a type that we see in Joshua as he boldly, urgently commanded the people to follow God into a land of risk.
At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. Joshua 3:2-6
Moses surrendered to popular opinion as a bad report was given about the very land they had been pursuing for years. The decision was to remain in the place of familiarity instead of paying the price to advance. Today’s church is in the same place. It’s foolishness to think revival is to be had if we are still standing in fear next to the water in the desert. Giants are in the land and we must have a fearless people who are willing to lay down their dreams and personal endeavors for the sake of corporate advance. God is waiting for such a people to arise—and when they do we will have true reformation churches.
Revival tarries because we presume it's a rare & extraordinary work of God alone. It also requires a rare & extraordinary work of man. The response must be significant, immediate and extreme. Revival costs much, and right now too few are willing to pay the price.
FIRST CHURCH OF STARBUCKS
As I sit here in a Starbucks with my headphones on listening to some worship music I wonder if this is just the atmosphere today’s church is looking for. Great coffee, amazing music, potential friends all around, lots of comfort and people behind the pulpit (oops, I mean counter) to get me what I need.
I was downtown Chicago one day, driving behind a bus. On the rear of the bus was an ad that still troubles me to this day:
Vineyard Church…Experience God and great COFFEE.
Yes, the word COFFEE was in all caps. I know it’s just an ad, but it bothered me. I think it speaks something. It speaks to surrender to our culture. What if instead the ad said:
Vineyard Church…come and die.
It doesn’t have the same zip, does it? I actually like it better.
A toned down message can certainly result in bigger numbers, but, in my 45th year of life, I have no desire to modify the message or deemphasize the cost for the sake of butts in seats. For me, it’s a reformation church or nothing. And, as I shared in the previous article, numbers are greatly suffering at Revival Church and we are in a place of considering whether this nation is ready for such an extreme call—but we will not compromise the call in order to pay the bills or provide the appearance of success. Hell is begging me to do that and I refuse to listen.
So, I do wonder if a reformation church is ready for prime time. I don’t think it is. Too many people are still sleeping and disinterested in the call to the cross—to carry it and to lay down everything for its sake.
…“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:14-17
Alarms of awakening are always extremely irritating to disinterested, comfortable sleepers. Alarms of awakening are even more irritating to those who are convinced they are already awake. Those convinced they are awake are at the greatest risk of spiritual death as they intentionally ignore warnings they presume are not for them. We all must be willing to question whether we are as awake as we think we are. I ask myself the question often: Am I kidding myself? Am I possibly talking it up without walking it out? The fear of the Lord rests on me day and night.
…I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelation 3:1-2
But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:6-13
I live every day with a God given disturbance in my gut…knowing that so many people who are convinced that they know God, convinced there’s time to fill their lamps with oil, are actually on a track toward Hell. Awakening them is my number one job in my short time on the Earth. I grieve daily over this.
As I drive by various churches I have a constant, underlying question that wrecks me…is it possible that everybody in that church is going to Hell? I'm not talking about obviously heretical churches…I'm talking about mainline, Spirit-filled churches. I'm even talking about my own church! I don't presume it to be the case…but I always have the question. Do they, do we, really know what it is to be surrendered to Jesus? Has apathy, sleepiness and deception crept in? Is Hell growing larger because of us? My God. Reformation must come!
So for me to simply tell people how much God loves them and to encourage them to rejoice in that fact would be a major violation of my calling. There are possibly millions of people today who are celebrating God's love for them while living in an unsaved condition. I can't encourage them in that…my passion is to call people into radical extravagance, surrender, death daily, deep intimacy and night and day prayer as we prepare for even greater troubles ahead.
As I’ve shared before, I only give myself an 80% chance of making Heaven! Why? Not because I'm insecure in my salvation now…but because I'm keenly aware of my vulnerability to failure in the future. I can't presume myself to be exempt from the great falling away. I will have many options to allow my love to grow cold and to fall asleep. It's that message that I need to get out there. We can be joyful and full of life while being sober and broken over the reality of our situation. Without holiness we cannot see God. If we leave that message out then we will lead people right to Hell. Reformation churches major on the call to repentance—and most don’t want to live in such an atmosphere.
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:12-14
This is what must be preached!
Leonard Ravenhill said he doubts that 5% of professing born again Christians in the USA are truly saved. That means in a church of 100 worshiping, dancing, tithing, Bible reading people… 5 of them might go to Heaven and 95 will burn forever in Hell.
Somebody needs to warn them before it's too late. We must have bold, and yes, aggressive, unapologetic prophetic leaders who draw a line in the sand and call the church to stop the madness. We must see the apathy come to an end and awaken today’s comatose church into mandatory response. We can’t be passive. We don’t have time.
Be careful not to reject such an invasive, direct messenger as arrogant. A lesser known but very real threat to revival is false humility. So many hold back offensive messages so they don't come across as brash, arrogant or presumptuous. They hope to display humility, but at the expense of truth. The thought is, if we appear loving as defined by what the recipient desires to feel, then we are loving and the person hearing the message is more likely to respond. This simply isn't true or biblical. I once heard, “You can't sacrifice truth on the altar of love.” Be bold. Love deeply. Shock the dead to life. Reformation churches will do just that.
CAN WE HAVE REFORMATION CHURCHES?
This is the question of the hour. I honestly wonder if we can, or if they might be extremely rare.
To fill the seats we have to bring the bar down a bit so as not to scare away the less committed. That grieves my spirit terribly.
I believe we must embrace this wheat and tare season that we are in and refuse to lower bars. Let God prune and define the true remnant. The question is, will there be enough people left after the pruning?
He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:14
Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:18
Yes, there is a remnant who will not bow. They are very small in number, but they are out there. Now is the time for them to gather. Where are you remnant? Awaken church! Strengthen! Pray! Gather! The 24/7 church is needed and YOU are the warrior God has created for this hour! If the remnant gathers in full force, then, and only then will we have enough to have reformation focused remnant churches in our cities. Until that happens we are left with a choice: Lead low key churches that satisfy people of various commitment levels or raise the bar to the level of Scripture and wait for the few burning ones to arrive for battle.
Pastors, the choice is yours.
The demands of culture are warring against the demands of Scripture—why are the cares of life winning?
And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold. Mark 4:18-20
As a first time church planter and first time senior leader in Manitou Springs, Colorado I heard the Lord say something to me that was more significant than I realized at the time.
We had just opened the doors on a 700 square foot “church” building. It sure didn’t feel like a church, but it’s what we had to work with. We were excited about the privilege to be called of God to plant in such a dark and spiritually devastated region. We had visions of a raging, city wide revival and of the masses running into this small town at the base of Pikes Peak to experience the fire of Jesus.
We also expected a passionate, ready remnant to eagerly, excitedly lay everything down for the sake of the mission.
It was in this place of zeal that we birthed Revolution Church and started calling people to the battle. It was also in this place where God spoke to me:
“The cares of life will be the greatest enemy to a fulfilled mission.”
It was an unexpected, interesting word. So, as any good leader will do, I taught a series on the cares of life! My thought was that I’d nip it in the bud and we’d all (all 20 of us at the time) be alert to the pressures the enemy would try to hit us with.
Now in Michigan, 13 years later, I understand how laughable my humble efforts to eradicate the cares of life with a sermon series was!
Listen closely: The greatest enemy of revival and the mission of God in our culture is the cares of life. These cares rob us of critical energy, focus, discipline, resources and the single-minded determination necessary to fulfill our calling in the church.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation 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 stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36
The cares of life are not only threatening the strength of the church. They are threatening our very salvation!
A failure to take dominion over our calendars, stresses, demands and other external pressures is resulting in a playing, sleeping people. Check out the warning Jesus gave Peter in the garden:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Matthew 26:39-41
What is the purpose of being alert, watching and praying? To avoid falling into temptation. Temptation to do what?
Check it out:
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don't know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Matthew 26:73-74
Peter’s failure to watch and pray resulted in his temptation to deny Christ! This is where the American church is right now! A great falling away is in front of us! Many will be tempted and many will give in to that temptation—to actually deny Christ! Peter called down curses—and a sleeping church will end up doing the same thing. This is extremely serious.
This is a core reason the 24/7 house of prayer must be full! Every Christian and every Church must be devoted to a life and culture of extreme prayer, corporately, daily.
It doesn’t matter if we enjoy it or not. It doesn’t matter if that environment ministers to us or not. It doesn’t matter if people like us, love us or affirm us there. It doesn’t matter. If the call is to gather together and pray, which it is, the church must respond fully. Nobody’s calendar is too full or too inflexible to make room for this. If a major nuclear terrorist attack is successful on our soil, and the threat of additional attacks remains, it will be easy to reprioritize everything. Suddenly prayer meetings will become more important than work, rest or play.
LOWERING THE BAR AND FILLING THE SEATS
The church of America has been waving the white flag for years.
The cares of life have won, or at least have the church pinned to the mat. We are celebrating a casual, two hours a week commitment. Prayer meetings are optional. Radical investment is unnecessary. Focus is on what God can do for us instead of what we are called to do for God. This is resulting in a false sense of strength and safety. The church is at great risk.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47
The every day church was launched in Acts. The once a week church is what we have today.
The cost of following Jesus is very, very high, yet today’s churches are not communicating that critical truth.
I was watching an interview of a member of an underground church in China. He explained that their focus on the church was extreme and necessary, so much so that every member gathered together in the church every morning at 4:30am before work. Mom, dads, kids, babies. Everybody.
Nothing is more important than the call to gather and pray—not even someone’s wedding day! This is a solemn assembly season, and everybody must be on board! The wheat and the tares are being revealed and the wheat will be identified by being gathered together in prayer.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Joel 2:15-16
I also asked a leader in Africa what the reason for the great move of God they were experiencing was. He simply told me that one hundred percent of the church walks to the church, many for hours, every Friday night to pray all night together.
Where is this type of devotion today? Where are the pastors who will raise the bar and call one hundred percent of his church to an extremely costly life? I’d encourage you to read my article in Charisma Magazine about why I believe Haiti is closer to revival than America: http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/revival/21400-6-reasons-haiti-may-be-closer-to-revival-than-the-u-s
Today we are cancelling services so as not to conflict with ballet, little league, football games and movies. My God. We are sleep walking while doing nothing more than dreaming about revival. What happened to the Acts 2 protocol? When will we make the main thing the main thing? When will we gather together daily for prayer? When will we allow the pretenders to leave so the remnant can get the job done?
As a ministry leader I always have a choice in front of me. Enjoy a low bar culture with little cost required and many people in the seats (and many dollars in the bucket) or raise the bar to the height of Scripture and watch the majority flee, leaving only a remnant who is ready as soldiers to fulfill the mission. We choose to pray for laborers and to communicate the radical investment necessary if they wish to follow Jesus with us.
I told God one day many years ago that if I responded to his extreme call to facilitate a white hot environment of prayer in our church I would lose my reputation. People would sever relationship with me and hurl accusations my way.
God said, “Good. My Son was of no reputation, why should you be?”
I was rocked. It was that day, many years ago, that I stopped trying to look good and build a ministry and make people happy about running with me. Selfish ambition died that day. The moment we make decisions based mostly on attracting people, keeping people or raising money is the moment we have failed as leaders.
…but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:7-8
I’m not trying to build a ministry—I’m devoted to obeying God and delivering the messages he has given me. I know these messages will directly hit theologies and ideals that so many hold dear. That’s the point. I crave people’s freedom from those harmful ideals! I desire the truth of Jesus to invade everybody’s life!
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34
One reason I’m OK with this divisive strategy (that Jesus affirmed above) is that it clearly reveals who’s for and who’s opposed. I’d rather make the message clear and know who I’m running with than to tone it down and have those who are opposed to it in our camp. So, we love and serve everybody in the camp, but we can’t get sidetracked from our mission for the sake of their comfort.
Trust me, the resulting remnant of burning ones will rejoice at such an atmosphere of clarity and fire! Those who are lukewarm today just may awaken and burn tomorrow—if we have the courage to preach the very difficult, costly truth!
WHAT IS THE COST OF GOING TO CHURCH?
Yeah, I know many will shout back, “We don’t go to church, we ARE the church!”
Nah. If you don’t go to church, you alone will never be the church. Church is corporate.
If we understand the meaning of the word ‘church’ we could never presume that we alone are the church. That idea is contrary to the origin of the word (ekklesia, meaning “assembly”). In fact, that word has secular origins. It literally means an assembly of people who have been called together by an authority in the city or region. Wow! That sheds a lot of light on what the church is.
The church is an assembly of people organized under defined governmental leadership. It’s a regular gathering of people who are deeply agreed and in pursuit of mission advance under God’s apostles, prophets and other governmental leaders.
This means that we don’t choose how and when to participate. We don’t use the church to serve us. We are called as holy soldiers to lock in and invest much in order to see the Kingdom of God advance.
The church isn’t there for us as much as we are there for the church. We are the laborers and we must ensure no cares of life, no worries, no conflicting activities and no other distractions keep us from showing up every time the doors are open.
The point where people disengage from a church is often the point they don’t feel the need or desire personally to continue. Focus is on self instead of the ekklesia.
Simply said, the cost of going to church, and being a part of the church is extreme.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Luke 14:25-30
What would happen if every church in a city shifted from one or two services a week to seven? What would happen if they were all prayer meetings? What if 100% of the church showed up daily? What if that price was paid?
Revival would come.
We need to pray in the garden and gather at the cross, at the most threatening, risky, costly place.
In closing, I want to share a description of a church that appears to be alive, but is dead. It has a low bar of commitment and it attracts many. The Triumphal Entry Church:
THE TRUMPHAL ENTRY CHURCH
Now this is church! This is a church growth model that is very appealing. Simply announce that Jesus is in the house and watch the people flood in!
The celebration began and people were ready to receive their new king. However, the focus of the people at the Triumphal Entry was similar to the focuses in the other churches we are discussing. They wanted their lives to be better. Blessing and personal gain were their motives.
As previously stated, the word Hosanna literally means, “save us now.” The people wanted a king who would give them life in a kingdom that would be personally fulfilling. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that desire—unless that’s the extent of the desire.
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:8-11
Hosanna! Most pastors and worship leaders would absolutely love such an environment! This was a blow-out celebration of Jesus! People were not only happy, they were jubilant! It was a revival atmosphere! If possible, Christian television would have covered this event. It was a historic moment!
Many local churches today have this as a key goal—to create a worship environment that’s electric and full of supposed “life.” Of course, the desire to have a true worship environment that affirms the abundant life that Jesus provides is appropriate. I love environments like this! I can imagine a Spirit-filled environment with people at the altar dancing, laughing and worshiping. I’ve seen that happen in churches I’ve led many times, and it’s great! Many churches are growing with this very positive, happy focus—but, the growth is, in my opinion, often (not always, of course) driven by people who will not stay the course if the cross is preached with boldness. They embrace anything that promises personal gain, but the call to daily death is resisted.
In my own ministry I had to make a hard decision—I could focus mostly on a satisfying, dynamic, happy culture that affirms the supernatural while minimizing the cross and the cost. Or, I could focus mostly on a culture that mostly affirms the cross and the call to die, repent and surrender, while expecting a supernatural outflow to come from it.
The first option would require compromise and bigger crowds. We chose the second option that has literally resulted in a diminished (pruned) crowd of like-minded firebrands who die daily and take up their crosses. We affirm that the cost of discipleship is so extreme, that few will respond. At Revival Church and the Detroit Prayer Furnace we are moving in unity with a small group of forerunners who are more interested in the cross and resurrection than in the Triumphal Entry. We chose dozens instead of hundreds, and it’s this group will burn in the night and change the world.
You will notice in this historic story of the Triumphal Entry that the people were willing to make a measured sacrifice, to pay a limited price, to experience what they hoped to. They gave their cloaks. They got to work and cut down palm branches. They were exuberant in their worship. However, we’ll soon see that their offerings had strings attached.
The word hosanna literally means “save us now.” The crowd was unified in their cry for their personal situation to improve, and Jesus was the man of the hour who they felt could pull that off.
Don’t forget the definition of religion: man’s attempt to use God to get what he wants. It was a spirit of religion that was disguising itself in a vibrant worship service.
See, Jesus was willing to save them now. However, his methods were nowhere near satisfactory for a crowd of people who were looking for safety, prosperity and life, not death. Jesus chose the cross as the means to answer their prayers. This crowd of energetic worshipers switched quickly to energetic crucifiers.
I’m all for wild, fervent worship. I am a proponent of continual joy. We should dance and smile a lot. However, we can’t dismiss the burden of the cross and the call to die.
Don’t presume a church is alive just because there’s an electric atmosphere. Human energy and desire can create quite an environment. Wait and see who remains when the call to surrender is high, and the alarms of intercession are sounded.
Yes, it’s true, I’m a Christian and I LOVE Christmas!
I’ve been running into a good number of Christians who have decided not to celebrate Christmas, and others who are confused on the issue.
For me, there is no confusion whatsoever—I absolutely, unashamedly, unapologetically love the Christmas season! It is my favorite time of the year!
Here are some reasons why I believe we should thoroughly enjoy Christmas:
- Jesus! The story of Jesus coming into our world is precious and should absolutely be celebrated. It doesn’t matter what the specific date is, we just choose to recognize December 25th as the day we remember this special event. Christmas is a wide open opportunity to celebrate Jesus in our culture, love people and enjoy him together!
- Presents! Listen, we must stop the assault on the joy of both giving AND receiving gifts! My primary love language is giving and receiving gifts, which is one reason I so value that special Christmas morning tradition. It is joyful! It’s fun! I refuse to apologize for coming alive like a little child when I open gifts. I love the special family member who gave the gift and, yes, I want that present! It doesn’t make you selfish or greedy or less spiritual to enjoy life this way. Certainly, one could become greedy or selfish, but that’s true all 365 days of the year. Over the past month, Amy and I have had so much fun hitting the malls, cruising around Amazon.com and going nuts at a Kmart that was going out of business buying presents for our kids. This is one reason I love Black Friday! There’s a fresh, exciting, festive atmosphere that is all about family togetherness. And, yes, Amy and the kids and I were at the stores on Thanksgiving this year. We were thankful to be together as we enjoyed the kickoff to the Christmas season! We waited in line at Kohl’s for about two hours—a line that literally stretched around the circumference of the entire store! We made friends, and Ella entertained everybody there by dancing and singing loudly, “God’s not dead, he’s surely alive, living on the inside, roaring like a lion!” We were there buying presents and we were doing it because of our love for each other.
- Childlikeness! It’s OK to get excited and a bit giddy about Christmas morning. It’s not only the kids that have a hard time falling asleep on Christmas Eve! In the Burton family, we always look forward to a special Christmas Eve event such as attending a movie together, going to a Christmas festival or something else to celebrate the season. We all act like kids! When we get home the stockings are ready to be dumped out and we then spend the rest of the night playing a new family game. Then it’s off to bed—all of us, a bunch of children excited about what the next day is about to bring!
- Santa! Celebrate the life of Saint Nick! The spirit of joyful giving is a wonderful thing to celebrate. Our kids have all of the accurate information. They know the presents they get are from mom and dad, but we all enjoy the selfless innocence that the spirit of Saint Nicholas represents.
- Memories! Some of my all time great memories growing up were during the Christmas season. I can still remember the gifts that caused me jump up and down in my pajamas! (Based on point #2 above you might have already guessed that I still do this at age 44) I want my family to have memories of joy and family togetherness for the rest of their lives. The Christmas season makes this easy—there’s just something about it.
One of the primary arguments I hear against the celebration of Christmas is that it has pagan origins.
My answer to that is simple—don’t be concerned about origin, be concerned with current status. Today Christmas is about Jesus. Consider Halloween. It’s origins were occultic, and it’s current status is occultic, so we do not celebrate it. Both Christmas and Easter are about Jesus today, and that is glorious.
In fact, consider other holidays that have nothing to do with Jesus. Do you still celebrate those? What about Thanksgiving? Do you take off work for Independence Day? How about your birthday? If we can celebrate those holidays, then we can certainly celebrate Christmas.
If we eliminated everything from our lives that had pagan origins, we’d have a hard time functioning.
Did you know that the following have pagan origins?
- Wedding rings
- Wedding ceremonies
- New Year’s/New Year’s Eve
- Statues of people and animals
- Money has pagan designs on it
- The days of the week
- The months of the year
- Eye makeup
- Wind chimes
- Saying “Amen”
- Baby showers
- Making your bed
In the first-century Church, gentile Christians were told to avoid meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols (Acts 15:29). However, Paul told the Corinthians that they could eat meat sold in the public market even though that meat may have been sacrificed to an idol (1 Cor. 10:25). He told them not to eat in the pagan temple. In other words, he told them to avoid blatant paganism, but they did not have to superstitiously avoid everything that paganism might have touched at some time in the past. ~gci.org
There’s no way I’m going to give in to anti-Christmas zealots…I’m having too much good, clean fun! In fact, I’d love to see Christmas extended throughout the year!
Let’s break off the humbug spirit that’s invading Christianity, enjoy the season and celebrate Jesus together!
Now repeat after me, “Ho, ho, ho.” Again, “Ho, ho, ho.”
There you go.
Discover four powerful keys to experiencing an explosion of truth in your life!
All too often I run into some amazing Christian people who are standing strong and pressing in, but also experiencing frustration at the lack of impact the Word of God has in their lives.
God’s Word is a burning, exploding, penetrating and living message that should cause us to collapse to the ground while trembling—yet that is rarely the experience for so many discouraged people of God.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me… Revelation 1:12
…I fell at his feet as though dead… Revelation 1:17
I know it’s popular today to attempt to read the Bible through in a year. Kudos to all who accomplish this!
I’d like to offer an alternate option: read a portion of a verse for a month. If we can speed through verses, chapters and books without being overwhelmed by the searing revelation, we need to slow down. Read one verse and let it rock you to the core.
For example, you could take the next month and let the first half of Revelation 1:10 provoke you:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day… Revelation 1:10
What does that portion of a single verse do to you? Oh, to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day! We could spend hours crying out to God on that topic alone! Hours can turn to days as we break and repent for times we might have grieved the Holy Spirit. A holy hunger to never leave that supernatural realm would then begin to overtake us and our entire lives would shift for eternity! A fraction of a verse can, and should, do that!
Then, the next month can be devoted to the rest of the verse:
…and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet Revelation 1:10
My spirit jumps at the mere thought of such an experience!
A zealous determination to hear the voice of the Living God will consume us as we, after the previous month’s revelation, are trembling in the Spirit of the Almighty!
The Word of God, the Bible, is most certainly a living message that should take us to our knees in extreme passion! Sadly, for most, it rarely does.
Four Powerful Keys
1. REALLY BELIEVE IT.
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13
It’s at work in you who believe. Or, another way to say it: we must believe what we are reading for it to work.
Before I lose you, I know, of course, that we as Christians clearly affirm a belief in the Bible. The problem is that we are kidding ourselves. True belief is rare in today’s church.
Have you ever considered why so many messages on love, for example, have to be preached from the pulpit? So many don’t really believe that God loves them. They aren’t convinced.
There have been seasons where I have hit hard on the issues of holiness, repentance, the fear of the Lord and eternity. It never fails that someone submits a request for me to balance out the subject matter with teachings that focus mostly on God’s love. Of course, it’s true that the topic of love is inexhaustible, but that’s not the underlying argument. The reality they are communicating is that the discussion of God’s severity threatens their weak grasp on God’s love. They don’t believe God loves them—even though the Bible states it clearly, continually from cover to cover!
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love… 1 John 4:16
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
You see, if we really believed that God loved us, we would never be phased by other difficult truths.
It would behoove us to be settled on truths that God’s Word is settled on. We simply must believe the Bible!
When we believe the Bible, literally, everything changes. We will never be able to casually breeze through the pages of our Bible again!
Passages that previously bored us will ignite us! Just take a moment, grab your Bible, and open it up. Read. Believe. Let the hunger for a manifestation of what you just read electrify your spirit! Have some righteous anger over truths that have been dismissed or minimized in the past, and as a result have not manifested in your life!
As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. Psalm 18:30
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. Psalm 19:7
All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. Psalm 119:160-161
God’s Word is true, no matter what our intellect or our situation may report.
A sure way to lose faith and fail to experience a life that is fueled by the power of the Word is to be led by our senses.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; Proverbs 3:5
If you want the power, the burning and the trembling to cease (or to never be found), then reject anything in Scripture that isn’t verified via science, experience or common sense.
Yes, you must read the Bible and believe it, no matter what your circumstances or experiences or knowledge may be. God’s truth trumps all else—even supposed facts, proofs or testimonies.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Throughout Scripture God defied common sense and brought man’s wisdom to nothing. We don’t have the capacity to grasp the mysteries of God in the natural, in our minds.
I dare you to read the Bible, be challenged by the impossible and refuse to doubt even for a moment. You will grow like a rocket!
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:18-22
2. DON’T REJECT IT.
We cannot reject the unpopular, difficult truths in Scripture. We must receive everything God’s Word communicates to us.
Today we are witnessing a tragedy in the church that I call Buffet Jesus. Jesus is the Word, according to Scripture, but his words are received in part instead of in full. Unpopular truths are passed by in favor of the sugary, more satisfying messages.
It is not possible to be a Biblical Christian if we only receive the parts of the Bible that are affirming, encouraging or uplifting. We can’t shut out the rebuke, discipline, judgment or severity of God because they don’t match our faulty worldview. When we do so, the entire counsel of God’s Word becomes compromised and tainted. Even the parts that are received are incomplete and were not meant to stand on their own.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13
Truth doesn’t only edify us. It corrects us. It troubles us. It judges us.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Too many refuse to be teachable due to their own pride or their rejection of anything that contradicts their picture of a perfect God. They shut down wisdom that threatens their utopia to their own detriment.
The Israelites rejected the way God was functioning when Moses was on the mountain (receiving the law, ironically enough) so they rejected him in favor of a man-made image. They fashioned the perfect God that fit their fleshly demands.
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' Exodus 32:5-8
If we fashion our own golden calf, made up of compromised, incomplete and twisted truth, we are far from enjoying the fruit of a truly Biblical life.
3. ACCURATELY UNDERSTAND IT.
If we want to have the truth of Scripture manifest powerfully in our lives, we have to understand it. We must study and rightly interpret what it is saying.
It’s shocking how many verses are taught, declared and stood on completely out of context. It doesn’t make us evil people if we do this (if done in ignorance), but it does make us frustrated people!
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
For example, most people who I would connect with on a day to day basis would agree that God is the Healer and that we can experience divine health as Christians.
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, Psalm 103:2-3
So, it’s common to pray for the sick and to cry out to God for him to heal them. And, the result, most often, is that the person remains sick. This can cause the truth of Scripture to become discouraging. In fact, the enemy can even cause people to reject the truth about healing in favor of a substitute teaching that matches what they are experiencing. How deadly this is!
If we understand Scripture we will know that nobody in the New Covenant ever prayed for God to heal anybody! The Apostles simply did it! The command wasn’t to pray to God to heal the sick, it was for us to heal the sick!
He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. Matthew 10:1
He gave them authority! So, we are to heal the sick, according to Scripture. When we pray for God to do it, that is contrary to the biblical protocol given to us.
Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Matthew 10:6-8
Jesus had to correct the misunderstanding of his disciples in Acts chapter 1:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4-8
Imagine the scenario: Jesus had just been slaughtered on the cross before their very eyes. Graves then opened up as previously dead people started moving about, the sun turned to darkness, the earth quaked—and then, a few days later, the previously unrecognizable, bloodied man had miraculously defied death and was standing before them!
You can imagine their passion and excitement. They were ready for their Champion to set up his Kingdom. However, they misunderstood how it would all unfold. Instead of telling them how he’d set up his Kingdom, Jesus told them to wait for the Promise—and then revealed that they would be establishing the Kingdom on the earth, not him!
Then he disappeared as the disciples were gazing into the heavens.
Today so many Christians are doing the same thing. We are gazing into heaven waiting for Jesus to do what Jesus is not going to do! In Acts chapter 1, the disciples transitioned into being apostles—sent ones. Jesus said something important on the cross, “It is finished.” He’s done. What else do we want him to do? He has defeated death, hell and the grave! Now WE are to move out and do what he empowered and commanded us to do!
If we don’t correctly understand this truth, we will be greatly frustrated and will wonder why the Bible doesn’t seem to work powerfully in our lives.
Another example of misunderstanding Scripture to our own detriment can be found in Romans 8.
How often have we attempted to encourage a fellow Christian with verse 28? Maybe they have gone through a divorce or lost their job. The go to verse for so many is actually some of the worst counsel that you could give them!
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
A correct understanding of Scripture would result in quite a different bit of counsel. Verse 28 begins with the word and. That should clue us off. That verse is contingent on the preceding truth. Something else must happen in order for all things to work together for good. Let’s back up and take a look:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. Romans 8:26-27
When we are weak, we are instructed to groan in the Spirit! That is the counsel we should be giving to people who are going through difficulty! It’s in the place of groaning intercession where all things work together for good. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is praying through us perfectly in accordance with God’s will. When that happens, our love of God intensifies (just try it!) and God’s will becomes ours as we agree in prayer. We don’t know what we are agreeing with, but it doesn’t matter. Our trust in in God and he can do as he wishes. He then makes all things work!
One more example can be found in Matthew. Have you ever called a prayer meeting and only had two or three people show up? In order to encourage the few faithful who showed up, you probably pulled out Matthew 18:19-20:
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20
I’ve done that myself, though I’ve always been a bit troubled by the principle. If he’s there where two or three are gathered, is he distant when I’m alone?
So, I studied it out and found something quite interesting. Those verses aren’t about prayer or prayer meetings at all.
They are about church government!
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' Matthew 18:15-16
How interesting! Jesus is saying that he has our back when we go with two or three witnesses to deal with someone who is in sin and unrepentant! He’s giving us a protocol for church government!
I could go on and on with other examples, but I believe you understand the point. If we function with great intentions but contrary to Scriptural truth, we are bound to be disappointed with the results.
4. EXPERIENCE REVELATION OF IT.
It’s one thing to believe the Bible. It’s an entirely different thing to have a supernatural revelation of it.
We all must live and walk and pray in the Spirit, night and day, so we can have a never ending supply of revelation.
This is where so few Believers will go. If we aren’t living in the Spirit, we can’t presume to fully understand or believe the Word of God.
Check this out:
Ephesians 3:14-21 (ESV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power (MIRACULOUS FORCE) through his Spirit (PNEUMA: BREATH, WIND, SPIRIT) in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend (SEIZE, POSSESS, APPREHEND) with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (DOESN’T EXIST IN THE VISIBLE REALM, OR EVENIN THE DREAM REALM), that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (WOW! FILLED, FULLNESS OF GOD!) 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power (MIRACULOUS FORCE) at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen
This miraculous force isn’t there to enhance what we see in the visible realm, or to give us the ability to dream a little bit more deeply…it’s there as a burning, blowing Spirit to take us on a journey into the invisible, supernatural realm.
Did you notice one of the most powerful miracles known to man revealed in verses 18 and 19?
We can comprehend and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge! Wow!
This means that we can have a revelation of God that goes well beyond our mental, logical limits. Verse 20 goes on to say that he’ll do more than we could ask or think according to the power within us.
There is an invisible, supernatural realm that we are called to live in continually. When we do, the Word of God will transform us over and over again.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17
The word word (as in, word of Christ) is translated rhema. Rhema is the voice of God, the message of God that is delivered in real time. It’s God talking directly to us! Our faith isn’t increased as we simply read the Bible. It’s increased as we hear God’s voice, and that happens as we live in the Spirit!
…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, Ephesians 6:17-18
Again, the word word (which is the sword of the Spirit) is translated rhema. It’s no mistake that the next part of the armor is praying at all times in the Spirit. When we live and pray in the Spirit, the rhema word of God will come to us, our faith will increase and we will advance with a powerful sword.
When the logos (the living, written Word) collides with the rhema as it’s stirred by the Spirit of God, our live in the Word will be alive, vibrant and active!
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
I’ll leave you with the passage I started with. Read it. Believe it. Understand it. Don’t resist it. Pray for overwhelming revelation of it. Let God rock you as the Holy Spirit burns through you. I pray that you will find yourself in the Spirit on the Lord’s day—and that his Word will transform your life!
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. Revelation 1:10-19