Good Christian People—Affirming a lukewarm culture

Who will sound a shocking alarm announcing that the church is asleep, lukewarm and without passion?

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Possibly the most unbelievable (but common) reaction to the urgent (but rare) call for Christians to burn with great passion for Jesus is the accusation of legalism. To be actively involved with zeal and to call others into a deeper devotion to Jesus and the mission of Kingdom advance smells of unrighteous works to many. I can barely believe I just wrote that.

Further, I’ve heard it said that such a determined devotion reveals a lack of revelation of the finished work of the cross. The thought is that we can now rest easy due to the work of Jesus and, in fact, any energy expended on our part in response to the cross is an offense to the cross. This, friend, is sickening and theologically ridiculous, yet that teaching is gaining ground in many Spirit-filled circles.

Not only should the cross of Jesus evoke the fire of passion from deep within every one of us, we should also understand the radical, costly participation that we must embrace:

Matthew 10:38-39 (ESV) 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The cross is the very picture of passion, and any response less than all consuming zeal is an indicator of a lack of understanding, certainly not of greater revelation. A revelation of our beautiful Savior being savagely tortured and brutally murdered due to our own detestable wickedness should drive us to our knees in a never ending lifestyle of thanksgiving, worship and intercession. Our desire to go deeper and to get closer to Jesus should wreck us every single moment of every single day.

Yet, even within the context of the church there are masses of people who resist such a focus. I’m shocked and disturbed to say that I heard of a locally popular pastor who actually confessed that he no longer preaches the cross. I suppose it’s old news and time to move on to more positive things. I’m grieved.

1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For those who do embrace the cross, and who do carry their own cross, they become a person who yearns to be with Jesus day and night in prayer. They can’t get enough.

One person’s response to the cross will result in a prayer lifestyle. When a group of people have a true revelation of the cross, it results in a prayer culture. When a region is impacted by the precious blood of Jesus that was shed on Calvary, you have a prayer movement. You have a mass advance of fervent, burning, passionate prayer.

In addition to a lifestyle of intercession, an immediate reaction to a life impacted by the unparallelled sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a desperation for every person at risk of slipping into a lukewarm state. Passion for the sleeping church overwhelms.

Revelation 3:15-16 (ESV) 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

When people are awakened to the reality of the cross, their urgent, heart wrenching cry is to “WAKE UP! WAKE UP, YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE!” We shouldn’t be surprised when awakened people are suddenly crying desperately for the sleepers to awaken as well!

Revelation 3:1-2 (ESV) 1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 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.

The prophetic alarm targets those who are relaxing, casual and unaware that their lack of urgency is putting their very lives—their very eternities—at risk.

Those who are comfortable and relaxed—especially those who are at ease “in the name of Jesus”—will always react against any alert that threatens their sedation. Those who are asleep do not like to be awakened, even if it’s for a good cause.

Romans 13:11 (NIV) 11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Just this morning I was deep in sleep when, all of a sudden, my wife shouted, “John! You need to wake up!” I jolted awake, not at all happy that I was suddenly forced out of what was really satisfying comfort. She said, “The plumber is here and he has to turn off the water for a few hours. If you want a shower, you better get moving! You have ten minutes.”

Of course I needed a shower, but I was still not thrilled (Okay, I was actually irritated) to be disturbed from my long, glorious slumber. But, in order for me to accomplish today what was necessary, I had to wake up—and fast.

A sleeping church is at risk of something much greater than a missed shower.

1 Thessalonians 5:6 (ESV) 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

Good Christian People

My heart is grieved beyond description. There is stunning unconcern over the state of most Christian’s lives. While it’s rare to find those who are burning with a never ending, raging furnace of passion for Jesus, it’s common to find pastors and others who appreciate those who are casually devoted as “good Christian people” who go to church and pay their tithes faithfully, as if that’s the mark we are trying to hit.

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It’s time for us to function in a type of love that’s rare in the land today. This love will result in a complete refusal to affirm “good Christian people” in any state less than radical, extreme, burning zeal that results in a lifestyle of prayer, works, fruit and obedience as they carry their crosses. No longer will we be able to look at a “good Christian family” who would qualify as pillars in most any reputable church today, but who are unresponsive to the calls to pray with groans of intercession, to feel the weight of God’s heartbreak and to be marked as extremists for Jesus.

It’s time to awaken the lukewarm, those who look alive, who appear to be solid Believers in Jesus, but who lack the necessary investment. We need a movement of people crying in the wilderness to confront the casual spirit that has overtaken the church!

Matthew 3:1-10 (ESV) 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Just as he rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for resting casual on the work of their father Abraham, we need a rebuke today for those who are flat-lining and unresponsive due to a casual response to what Jesus did on the cross. The cross didn’t end our investment, it initiated it. It empowered it. It demanded it.

“Good Christian people” are those who are interested in the things of God, and who are active to a point, but when the call becomes costly (and bloody), they back off just enough to still have a sense of connectivity but also, safety from the call to death to self and radical surrender on their cross.

Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV) 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 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.’ 10 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. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Fifty percent of those who considered themselves to be consecrated to Christ (virgins) were deemed unready. He didn’t know them due to their casual approach, due to their sleep. This affected their eternities:

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV) 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Today we have a generation of church people who once said a prayer and who are entrusting their entire eternity to that one moment in history. There’s little passion, little intimacy with Jesus, little fruit and no raging fire in their spirits, yet they presume all to be well. After all, they are “good Christian people.”

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Who Will Respond to the Call?

Dell-000050102It wouldn’t shock me that in a major city the size of Chicago, for example, if there might only be a few thousand people who would be described as the radical remnant. Of course, that’s an uneducated guess, but even if it’s four or five times that amount, the percentages would be staggering.

That’s not to say that many more aren’t interested or even hungry. I’m absolutely sure that is the case. The potential harvest is great. But, I’m talking about the John the Baptist style burning awakeners who are giving themselves fully to continual prayer, the pursuit of revival and advancing the Kingdom of God. Those who are in position and responsive. Those who have dealt with the cares of life and who live for little else than to serve the King and to contend night and day for revival and a great end-time harvest.

It’s this type of person that Evan Roberts targeted with his famous revival prescription. Frank Bartleman, who was instrumental in the Azusa Street move of God, sent Evan Roberts a message asking him what he should do to experience a move like they saw in the Welsh revival. Frank listened and we all know the rest of that story.

What is the prescription? It’s something that very few are willing to adhere to:

“Congregate the people who are willing to make a total surrender. Pray and wait. Believe God’s promises. Hold daily meetings.”

I challenge pastors everywhere: refuse to build a church on any type of person other than those Evan Roberts describes. Your church of 500 will most certainly shrink to under 50 but you will be left with those who are fully surrendered and ready to invest at a level worthy of the King.

Just what would happen if we really got serious and refused to lower the bar for those less devoted? Let’s break down Evan’s prescription:

Congregate the people who are willing to make a total surrender.

Preach in such a way that makes the less passionate uneasy and the remnant come alive.

When we call people to a level of life worthy of the cross of Christ, the pretenders will return to the activities their hearts are most united with. The resulting atmosphere will be Upper Room like as the Holy Spirit moves in great freedom.

Sadly, churches today pander to those who want to come, who want to belong, but who are not willing to make a total surrender. There are many Rich Young Rulers in the pews who are affirmed by their pastors but who are actually following Jesus in an unsaved condition.

Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV) 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Those who aren’t willing to make a total surrender will be evident when the bar of commitment is appropriate. They will avoid the prayer meetings. They will be slow to respond to the call. They will resist the cross and the mandate to die daily.

When we do find those who are willing to make a total surrender, we can move on to the next step in Evan Roberts’ revival protocol:

Pray and wait.

This next phase will eliminate even more people. I believe it would make a lot of sense based on what is found in Scripture to replace the primary weekly service with a fiery prayer meeting. Further, the call to pray and wait should result in a prayer culture in the church that is often grueling, sometimes electric.

Finding those who will actively participate hour after hour in prayer is a tough task, though it’s a non-negotiable one. The church is a house of prayer, and it’s an indictment on today’s leadership that people can participate in church activities and call themselves Christians without having a fervent, devoted life of continual prayer.

Psalm 119:145 (ESV) 145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD! I will keep your statutes.

Psalm 86:3 (ESV) 3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.

Ephesians 6:18 (ESV) 18 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,

Romans 8:26 (ESV) 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

When we have a group of people who will pray continually, we can consider the next step in the revival prescription:

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Believe God’s promises.

Call everybody to an extreme life of faith.

There is much that I could write here about this, but suffice it to say that many challenges and opportunities to stand in extreme confidence of God’s ability to meet us will arise.

When such an extreme, inconvenient revival lifestyle dominates our daily schedules, we will have to learn to trust God to supply our needs, ensure our families are strong and united and provide the energy necessary. The enemy will work hard to destroy our faith, yet we must be unmoving.

Romans 14:23 (ESV) 23  …For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

If we’ve accomplished the first three steps, this next one will certainly bring the pressure in today’s busy culture:

Dell-000050103Hold daily meetings.

Acts 5:42 (ESV) 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Is there anyone who has what it takes to defeat the cares of life and to order their calendar in such a way that they could gather together every day of the week?

This has been one of my greatest challenges in my 25 years of ministry. Finding a remnant people who have filtered out every competing, lesser activity in their week to make room to gather in prayer every day has been nearly impossible.

Yet, it’s happening in China. It’s happening in other more desperate parts of the world. It’s happening where entertainment isn’t king and t-ball and ballet don’t rule. Today’s Christian culture is heavily marked by pleasure and the typical American dream. This not only puts revival at risk. It puts their eternity at risk.

Luke 17:26-27 (ESV) 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

When I ministered in Haiti over a thousand people walked to the church building every day, many of them for over two hours, just to be in prayer and to advance as one people toward revival. It was humbling. It was awe inspiring. They had nothing better to do than to be with God as a passionate family every night of the week.

It also happens when there are outpourings. People cancelled everything in their lives to attend the outpourings at Brownsville and Toronto every night.

During the Second Great Awakening, over 10,000 people attended a prayer meeting every day in New York City. People from other states visited those prayer meetings and then started their own in their region.

I’m sure you can see why I said I believe there may only be a few thousand remnant Christians who are fully devoted to prayer and revival in a city the size of Chicago. The number may actually be much smaller.

Acts 2:46 (NIV) 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

The fact that we have better things to do than contend for revival in the place of prayer every day is evidence enough that the church is asleep, comfortable and in a very dangerous place. It’s time to fall in love with Jesus again, gather together and pray and model the first century church.

Revelation 2:4-5 (NIV) 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Final Thoughts

We need an awakening movement in our nation, and in the nations. John the Baptist type messengers must arise and confront the slothful, lazy and religious spirits that are in the land with great boldness. Those who don’t fear being labeled legalists must open their mouths and shake the comatose back to life.

A call to radical intimacy with Jesus that can only be nurtured in the place of continual prayer needs to be shouted from the rooftops. The resistance to radical prayer is resistance of Jesus himself. If we don’t desire to be with the one we love, and to hear his heart and intercede on his behalf, our commitment to him is suspect.

There is truly no greater glory than to live a life of prayer and there is no greater mystery than those who have taken his name yet refuse to be with him.

Ephesians 5:14 (NIV) 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

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