Sunday, September 25, 2011

Religion Without the Spirit

Sleep on, church, the Son of Man comes in clouds of glory at a time in which you least expect it.

Over the centuries the church of Jesus Christ in all its forms has morphed into an institution with thousands of little outposts that exhibit very little power and concentrate upon structure, doctrine, and fellowship. While those things may not be wrong per se, they become major stumbling blocks when they replace the Spirit. And when I say the Spirit, I do not mean some of the fleshly contrivances by some of the more charismatic gatherings. And I do not mean a music fueled worship service that gives rise to the emotions which just as quickly disappear as soon as the music and the service ends. And in full disclosure, I am very demonstrative in my worship, both private and corporate so I am not against demonstrative worship.

But something very disturbing has happened in western Christianity. Our gatherings are powerless religious theatre, organized and completely preplanned, and they usually are twin brothers to the last and next Sunday gatherings. When was the last time the Spirit actually took control of a gathering of believers and significantly and unexpectedly elongated that service in order to perform an observable work in the hearts of those present? Perhaps you believe that the Spirit does not desire to do that anymore? Perhaps you believe that a perfunctory, one hour religious observance is an accurate manifestation of what it means to enter into God’s life changing presence?

But we have become accustomed to our religious customs, and we have constructed our gatherings to show deference to the fast paced culture entrenched in the hearts of so many believers. The service itself is predictable and is designed to accommodate visitors since they represent a potential giving member. But where is the Spirit? Look at the condition of the church and can you honestly say she is in good spiritual condition? Even the slogans adopted by many churches are designed to be upbeat and make people feel good.

But among all the activity, there is a spiritual dearth that cannot be ignored by those with ears to hear and eyes to see. We are on a religious treadmill that goes nowhere, but meets our need to satisfy our religious obligation. There is more, much more, than what the western church both exhibits and expects. And living within the culture of extreme hedonism and moral darkness, we are only persecuted for our stand on abortion or homosexuality. Our light is so dim it blends in with the spiritual darkness, and in fact, our colossal misrepresentation of what it means to follow Jesus is so bland and so tepid and so unremarkable, that we are embraced by the unregenerate and welcomed to the table called pluralism. And we still feel as though we are following in His steps?

They crucified the holiest man who ever lived and yet they embrace us as American brothers? They called Him Beelzebub and they called Paul that “pestilent fellow” and yet we attach “Dr.” to our name. They spit on His face but we are offended when spoken against and we return evil for evil. He surrendered His rights while we demand ours. He shed His life’s blood for our sins but we run to spread gossip about the latest moral failure.

Redemption has become an impotent word whose power usually does not venture any further than the sinner’s prayer. But where are the millions of professing believers whose lives are so filled with the fragrance of Christ and so different than those around them that people must take notice that they “have been with Jesus”? Jesus is no longer the focal point of the church. He no longer is preached and obeyed as Lord of All. Who in the west dies for Christ, and more noticeably who lives for Christ?

The unbeliever walks to his driveway on Sunday morning and notices several cars missing from his neighbors’ driveways. But he knows that at approximately 1:00 PM they will all return and all things will remain the same since the father’s slept. And this is the manifestation coming from people who claim the Creator of the Universe actually lives inside their mortal beings? We who say we believe the Bible, what have we done? We all have been born into this ecclesiastical structure, and we have known many wonderful and even spiritual believers, but we have allowed that to lull us to sleep and accept this caricature as a revelation of the watching and waiting Bride of Jesus Christ.

But step back for a moment and read the New Testament once again and your eyes may be opened to the truth. We were never meant to have our faith be a part of a well rounded western lifestyle. An authentic expression of following Christ must always be a significant inconvenience in the midst of a humanistic culture. There should be many things in this culture in which we cannot participate or find any spiritual nutrition, and not just things that are obvious sin. The true expression of Christ in a fallen culture is a paradox. It draws sinners while simultaneously repels others. But our motive must always be to draw them.

But this mundane and inconspicuous Christian lifestyle lives at peace with God’s enemies, and regards salt as extremism and light as offensive. But if we are to be at war it is not with the carnal weapons of fallen man, but with the fruits of the Spirit and the unmistakable marks of a humble and surrendered servant of Christ. But in large part the church has abandoned the prayer closet and the elongated watches in prayer. In fact, over the years we have revealed that we no longer actually believe in the power of prayer.

The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost
He came in mighty fullness then
His witness thru believers won the lost
And multitudes were born again
The early Christians scattered o'er the world
They preached the gospel fearlessly
Tho' some were martyred and to lions hurled
They marched along in victory

Come Holy Spirit dark is the hour
We need Your filling
Your love and Your mighty power
Move now among us stir us we pray
Come Holy Spirit revive the church today

Then in an age when darkness gripped the earth
The just shall live by faith was learned
The Holy Spirit gave the church new birth
As reformation fires burned
In later years the great revivals came
When saints would seek the Lord and pray
O once again we need that holy flame
To meet the challenge of today

Come Holy Spirit dark is the hour
We need Your filling
Your love and Your mighty power
Move now among us stir us we pray
Come Holy Spirit revive the church today

Can we even long for the unmistakable mighty wind of the Spirit that descends upon a thirsty people who call, yea beg, for God to once again reveal Himself dramatically through His very own people? As we gaze back and meditate upon the cross and the depth of that loving sacrifice, are we content with the sacrifice we now live? Can we say that the church walks in resurrection power today? Without the fullness of the Spirit there is nothing but religious human works that are only lifeless replicas that manifest a pitiful impersonation of the Risen Christ. What shame! What a sham! We have attempted to live without the Spirit while attempting to claim we live for Jesus. There can be no greater lie.

Brothers and sisters, the western church is in ruins. Despite all the activities, ecclesiastical organization, and human exertion they are not the personification of the Great Redeemer regardless of how many people it attracts or how it meets our earthly desires. The first step to revival is recognizing the need for one. But the second step must be desperation. Until the church becomes desperate for Christ, desperate for the power and presence of the Spirit, we will remain entrenched in a redundant religious construct that continues to crowd out the Spirit and imprison those who claim to be free. I do not claim to have arrived, but I have touched the hem of His garment and I have become acutely aware of how much more there is to the life of a committed disciple.

The life of a follower of Jesus is doctrine; but it is much more than doctrine. It is fellowship; but it is much more than fellowship. It is witnessing; but it is much more than witnessing. It is gathering; but it is much more than gathering. Now the Scriptures exhort us to study the Word and fellowship together and witness to the lost and gather on Sunday to worship. But the Scriptures never told us to do those thing all the time. But there is one thing we are exhorted to do always.

Lk.18:1 - And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint

Lk.21:36 - Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

Eph.6:18 - Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

Rom.12:12 - Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

Phil.4:6 - Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

I Thess.3:10 - Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

I Thess.5:17 - Pray without ceasing.

I Tim.2:1 - I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

I Tim.5:5 - Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.

II Tim.1:3 - I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;

Jam.5:17-18 - Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

I believe with my whole heart the church has lost her way when she lost the passion for prayer. And until, by God’s grace, we once again commit ourselves to unusual and laborious times of prayer and intercession, we will remain as we are. But you and I cannot just wait for the church at large to catch that vision. We must commit to seeking the face of Christ in prayer and beseeching Him to do a fresh work in us, regardless if we are the only ones. He is worthy of our lives.

And this kind of repentance is very difficult since prayer itself does not sing a moving song or preach a powerful sermon or write a public blog. Prayer does not clamour for our attention, and there are a hundered other things we could be doing. Prayer demands patience, much patience, and we are not a patient people. We must see results quickly or we move on to other things. This prayer cannot be something we give a try; this must become the centerpiece of a believer's life. Jesus said His house was one of prayer, but we have made it a center for religious activity and everything but prayer.

And any church which is led by the Spirit to elevate prayer to a higher priority than everything else will lose members. Today's sheep are not interested in prayer. They are interested in finding the best pasture with the most exhileration and the friendliest sheep.

Matt.26:40-41 - And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Sleep on, church, the Son of Man comes in clouds of glory at a time in which you least expect it.

1 comment:

shannon said...

The false church is growing by leaps and bounds. The verses below explain this phenomena:

Matthew 7:13,14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

John 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him...
John 10:24-29
Verse 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Ephesians 1:1-6

Yes indeed, Brother Rick, it is "religion without the Spirit".