July 1, 2014
Misunderstanding the Culture of Revival
By Anthony Wade
Billy Graham's daughter calls for revival but as so many before, she misses the larger point.
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. - Psalm 85: 6-9 (ESV)
"God's people need to pray before it's too late, and judgment falls on our nation."
This is the plea recently from the daughter of Reverend Billy Graham. I do not blame Anne Graham Lotz and am sure her heart is in the right place. This is what she has been taught. To a large extent it is what we all have been taught by a church system that has been overly enamored with "revival" for over a century now. A hundred years ago however, revival was always applied to the realm of believers. A fresh fall of the Spirit of God empowered believers to go into all the world and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The early Pentecostal believers correctly understood that it is the church that needs revival, not the world. That is because you cannot revive what has never been alive to begin with.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. - Ephesians 2: 1-3 (ESV)
The world, and this country, do not need revival - they need the Gospel. Revival indicates that there is some former state we need them return to when the reality is they have always been dead in their trespasses, as we once were. This point is seemingly lost on most evangelical leaders who continue to cultivate a false paradigm. Graham Lotz correctly wants believers to pray for protection for the saints during these end times, for God to be exalted and for the church to repent of sin but then takes the same revivalistic plunge that so many before her did:
Pray for...our nation to return to faith in the living God, resulting in a great national spiritual awakening.
This is the same well intended lament we hear from so many in leadership. Graham Lotz quotes Joel 2, which says to blow the trumpet and sound the alarm for the Day of the Lord is approaching. She is right. Judgment is coming for this world, not just America. Unfortunately, the culture of revival misses the point. It avoids the real work we are supposed to be doing. Beloved, God will not spare America, or the world for that matter. The justice which He embodies will not allow it. Why then this obsession with national revival? I think it is time we come to some hard realizations. We like the culture of revival because like Lot before us, we have pitched our tents towards Sodom because we like Sodom. Make no mistake about it beloved. America is Sodom. We do not want to see it judged. We somehow think that if we can just convince the unsaved people in America to behave better that God will relent. That if they posted the ten commandments in courthouses and allowed prayer in schools then God will relent. That if they repeal all the gay marriage ordinances then God will relent. That if we can finagle a way to shut all of the abortion clinics in this country then God will relent. That if we can win all of the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court cases then God will relent. If we can stop the over saturation of sexual exploitation then God will relent. All of this however misses the point.
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." - John 3: 3 (ESV)
Beloved, the problem with the unsaved is not behavioral; it's relational. We can achieve all of the revivalistic-quasi-political goals it seems evangelicals ruminate over and nothing will have shifted eternally. Nothing will have been accomplished spiritually. We can have the ten commandments posted in every courthouse, stop every abortion, prevent every homosexual from marrying, reinstitute prayer in schools, and return to the sexual saturation levels of the Victorian Era and nothing will have changed because everyone else would still be unsaved. Our job is not to convict the unsaved of their sin - that is God's job. Our job is to preach the Gospel. I saw the Christian glee over the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling yesterday and was frankly downcast because we still do not get it. Driving away the very people we need to present Jesus to is not a wise evangelistic strategy. We need to realize that all we are trying to do is save Sodom and God is not going to relent. Our citizenship is not on this earth yet we act as if America is God's country. We are supposed to be pilgrims and sojourners through this land but instead we abide. Not under the shadow of the Almighty but rather in the belly of the beast we pretend to abhor. The people who are separated from God do not need to hear us condemning them. They need to hear the Gospel. Which brings us to our key verses for today taken from Psalm 85 and deals with the subject of revival. Let's take it piece by piece:
Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you?
The first lesson is that revival deals with us - not them. It deals with those who are already the Lords. We love focusing on them because it means we do not have to look at ourselves. Our own deficiencies. Our own sin. It is much easier to look upon the world and blame them for all of the ills in society and the coming judgment. Easier than to look inward to what we should be doing better in these last days. The second lesson here is for us to ask the very disturbing question - what are we rejoicing in? The Psalmist asks for revival specifically so that they may rejoice in the Lord. That leads me to believe that the need for revival is linked to a falling away from rejoicing in the Lord. Look out over the landscape of modern Christendom and see what it is that we rejoice in today. We rejoice in large sculpted buildings and pomp and circumstance. We rejoice in money and possessions. We rejoice in a religion that costs us nothing. We rejoice in exploiting the grace of God so that we can excuse our own sin. We rejoice in false signs and lying wonders. We rejoice in the very things the Bible warns us we will rejoice in:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. - 2Timothy 3: 1-5 (ESV)
These verses are not about the world beloved. They are about the church. We have plenty of appearance and are sorely lacking in power. If you want to see what we rejoice in, turn on what passes for Christian television these days. Realize that when Joel Osteen can pack in 55,000 people into Yankee Stadium to hear a message devoid of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are rejoicing in the wrong thing. I have heard all of the arguments and they do not stand next to the holiness of God and the imperative of His Gospel. I do not care how nice he is. I do not care what his motivation is. I do not care if he makes you feel good. I care about the Gospel and he does not preach it. Period. The church needs to return to rejoicing in God. To find all we need in God. To be sustained in God. To be in love with God. To find our sufficiency in God. To find our purpose not in a church building but in His Gospel. That is where revival starts.
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
There are two things we lose sight of when we drift as a church. Two things we take for granted. The love of God and His salvation. There is a perverted grace leaven running through the church today that is driving us farther from God. A grace that turns the love of God into a caricature. There is no subject that causes Christians to abandon biblical truth faster than love. We run to the world and embrace their distorted views on love and then drag them back to camp and try applying them to God. Far too many Christians believe God doesn't even want them uncomfortable. He was OK with the crucifixion of His only Son, but is infinitely concerned with our comfort! Let us never lose sight of the true love of God
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. - John 3: 16 (ESV)
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." - Hebrews 12: 5-6 (ESV)
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. - John 15: 12-14 (ESV)
There is a great verse in the Bible where an apparently exasperated Jesus asks why bother calling Him Lord if we refuse to do what He says! We can sing Friend of God every Sunday until Jesus comes but unless we are doing what He says - we are not His friend. Love is not this sappy puppies and unicorns version of Christianity. Love is the discipline from the Father too. Love more importantly - begins and ends at the cross. Taking Calvary out of our church in the interests of drawing people, removes the love of God.
The second thing here we lose sight of is our salvation. Modern Christianity has turned salvation into an event. Altar call? Done that. Sinner's prayer? Check. Keep it moving. No beloved. The Bible says we are to work our our salvation with fear and trembling and the cold hard reality for us today is the fear of the Lord within the church is in desperate need of revival. How can people make sport of the sheep of God? No fear. How can we fall so far away from our salvation? No fear. Someone asked me once why I would want to serve a God I need to be afraid of. My answer is this. I am not afraid of God hurling a lightening bolt down upon me because I know He loves me. I am afraid of forgetting that He can if He so desires. I am afraid of losing that reverent awe.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.
The Lord desires to speak peace to His people beloved; to His saints. But the revival of that peace will not come as long as we are turned to folly and folly we most assuredly have turned to. We see a church today more concerned about wealth and material prosperity than they are about spreading the Gospel. We see a church more enamored with following charismatic speakers than they are with hearing Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We see a church more willing to read something called "Destined to Reign" or "Seven Steps to a Better You" than they are their Bible. We would rather be purpose driven than spiritually motivated . We would rather be seeker friendly than biblically literate. We would rather be entertained than challenged. We hold prayer meetings without prayer. Sell salvation without repentance. Hold church without Christ. Revive the nation? Dear Lord, we cannot even revive ourselves from the folly we willingly sit under week after week. Not my church preacher! Yes your church! The true peace of God awaits us but not until we turn back from our own folly. Forget the sins of the world. They are walking in darkness and the things of God are foolishness to them. We however have tasted what is good and know the Lord yet still walk right to the edge and pitch our tents towards Sodom, hoping God will relent and spare what we ought not be inflamed with.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.
And we come full circle. It is possible for the glory of God to dwell in our land beloved. But our land is not this country. We gave up that citizenship when we were saved. The glory of God is supposed to dwell in the land that is His. The church is supposed to reflect the glory of God! When we find ourselves living in the proper reverent fear of the Lord then His salvation will be near for all to see. The people in the world will see what we have and want it. Peace in the storm. Love in the middle of hate. Hope in the middle of despair. Revival starts when we recognize that this is not about us. It is not about our comfort and happiness. It is not about our righteousness and good works. It is only and always about a God who loved us so much that He sacrificed His only Son for our sins.
Put away your revival talking points and stop reading the Harbinger. Read the Bible and preach the Gospel so that some might be saved. Amen and hallelujah.
Reverend Anthony Wade - July 1, 2014
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.