Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | October 24, 2019

A Battle for Authenticity

Richard would be described by most as a good Christian, having come to faith in Christ twenty five years ago. Being a faithful church attender ever since, his life largely revolves around church life; that is, activities and programs promoted by his church. The following is a typical week in Richard’s life:

On Sunday morning, Richard rises early to attend church. After the song service, his pastor delivers a six-point sermon on a particular topic; Richard listens intently and takes notes on the back of the church bulletin which is provided to each member for this express purpose.

On Sunday evening, Richard attends his church’s Sunday evening service where the associate pastor delivers a sermon on a particular topic. Although no bulletin is provided, Richard brings his own notebook so he can take notes and glean over them during his daily quiet time.

On Monday night, Richard attends his “small group” which consists of six other people; they share a meal and go over their notes from Sunday morning’s sermon (as instructed by the pastoral staff), discussing how they can apply it to their daily lives.

On Tuesday evening, Richard attends his church’s Bible Study in the fellowship hall. One of the pastors or elders leads it. During this particular week, the study is from the book of James; the goal being for members to gain insight on how to apply its teaching to their lives.

On Wednesday evening, Richard attends church to hear yet another sermon by his senior pastor. Bulletin for taking notes provided.

On Thursday evening (since it’s the 2nd Thursday of the month), Richard participates in a “ministry night” which is predetermined by the church leaders. One month it may be the providing and sorting of clothes for a thrift store located on the poor side of town; another month may be the serving of food at the local homeless shelter.

On Friday evening, Richard gets off work and goes home to prepare for the night. Rather than joining folks from work who enjoy dinner and drinks at a local restaurant, Richard always opts out and goes to church instead because it’s “game night.” Each week, the church bulletin lists the particular game that will be played the following Friday; sometimes a board game, and sometimes a more interactive activity. Plus, recent sermons have discussed how Christians should not participate in the “unfruitful deeds of darkness,” so not being around wine-drinkers is seen by Richard as the path of holiness.

On Saturday evening, Richard typically stays home to watch a few preachers/teachers on Christian TV who have been highly spoken of by the church staff and some in his small group. Or, he may read a portion of a book from the church’s approved book list. Richard won’t deviate from the list as he wants to spiritually “stay on the same page” with all other members, as directed by the pastor.

It’s Sunday morning again, and Richard rises early to prepare for church. He attends Sunday School and then heads to the sanctuary for the morning service. During the brief intermission between worship and the sermon, he shakes hands with other members. People ask, “How are you?” and Richard replies, “I’m doing great!” But inside, Richard knows he’s not doing great. He carries a burden of guilt for failing to meet “biblical standards” which are the strong focus of his pastor’s teachings, frequently battles depression, has no real friends, feels aimless, is inwardly discontent and is deep in debt (although he tithes regularly). But he keeps it all to himself; he doesn’t want to be judged for his “lack of faith” or for not praying enough or reading his Bible enough. After all, people who are truly “on fire for God” don’t have these problems. He just needs to “press into God” even more (as his pastor routinely suggests) and things will get better…

Outside of church, Richard has a full-time job. He’s a good employee, has high morals and is known to follow the rules. Nonetheless, he’s seen by most as relationally aloof… spending his break-time in his cubicle where he eats his bagged lunch and studies his Bible. And conversation with Richard has always been a bit awkward. His insular life serves as an obstacle to meaningful dialogue about current events, sports, business and other things that folks like to chat about; he’s just not “in-the-know.” Finally, he periodically seems to “force Jesus” into conversations… the result of the guilt and stress he carries for not “sharing the gospel” with everyone he comes into contact with. After all, if he doesn’t, “their blood shall be on his hands” as his senior pastor recently suggested.

Friends, although the above scenario is fictional, it’s not at all uncommon. I’m going to cut right to the chase…

How does a life that is supposed to be lived from the heart… a life that should be characterized by love, inner desire, spontaneity, passion, generosity, creativity, and (most of all) relational connectedness, become an insular life lived from the head, within a neat little box arranged by others, and characterized by the ordinary and mundane?

How does a life that is supposed to be lived from the heart… a life animated by Christ Himself…. become a head-strong life animated by sermons, Bible studies, and the expectations of others within church culture?

Welcome to organized religion (AKA church).

So many Christians are divorced from their heart and don’t even know it. Unable to think for themselves, they’re always looking to their pastor-idols for direction, and worship their Bibles by living off principles and instructions written in ink… rather than responding to the Holy Spirit written on their hearts.

It’s why I maintain that very little that goes on with those plugged into church-world and mass media Christianity is authentic, organic, original. Rather than being animated by our own hearts (where Christ Himself lives), we routinely live off the revelation of others and are master copy-cats.

As for Richard, he’s bought into the narrative that it’s “the world” that will distort his life, cause him to stumble, and serve as an obstacle to his growth.

It certainly can.

But what if Richard’s biggest obstacle to living a life characterized by inner desire, passion, generosity, creativity and spontaneous acts of love is his preoccupation with following his pastor’s six-point sermon?

What if his biggest hindrance to social and emotional growth is his insular life lived within the four walls of his church?

And what if his biggest stumbling block to relational connection with others and being in tune with his surroundings (so he can manifest light and love) is a head always down and buried in Bible?

Will Richard ever break free from the religious system that has usurped the preeminence and simplicity of Christ in his life? Will he be able to forsake church-world methodologies and ideologies which promise him fullness and freedom while continuing to experientially keep him in bondage? And will he ever discover his true identity in Christ and as a man, and freely live, laugh and love in the arena of real life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 20, 2019

Sermons Are Not The Answer: We Are

I was recently drinking a cup of coffee at a nearby Starbucks when I saw a poster card on the bulletin board with the following words… placed by a local Baptist church in our area:

“Life can be hard, and its difficulties can touch people in different ways. Some people feel absolutely exhausted and unsettled. Others are forced to battle with depression, addiction, and chronic illness. Still others are left to contend with the relentless pressure of guilt. God has a word of hope for every person that is overwhelmed. Will we listen?”

And then there was a list of sermon titles with the date of each church service.

It’s unfortunate that this mindset permeates church-world Christianity.

Are you overwhelmed? Exhausted? Unsettled? Depressed? Addicted? Sick? Feeling the sting of shame? Then come to our church to hear our pastor’s sermons on these topics! Get a “Word from God” so you can go back home and feel all better. If you will just listen enough, believe enough and obey the Bible enough, you should be able to pull yourself up by your own boot-straps and get it together!

I wonder if the following scripture ever made it into the pastor’s sermons:

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 34-40)

Or this one:

“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

 

My point is this: The hurting of this world don’t need or want to hear our pastor’s preaching on “the Bible” nearly as much as they need the Body of Christ to function as the Body of Christ. But this poses a problem, especially within our culture of comfort and convenience. It’s easy to “invite people to church” so folks can hear our pastor while we silently sit by and do nothing. But to actually lift up the needy by investing our time, abilities, emotional energy or money into people who are depressed, or addicted, or sick, or broke, or overwhelmed, or exhausted, or lonely, or damaged in some other way, to the point that it costs us and perhaps costs us significantly…. well, that ethic is foreign to many. Yet this is the ethic of Christ and the ethic of the Gospel. And since His Spirit resides in us, it’s an ethic that should characterize His Church.

Perhaps the following words on the above poster-card would have been better:

“Life can be hard, and its difficulties can touch people in different ways. Some people feel absolutely exhausted and unsettled. Others are forced to battle with depression, addiction, and chronic illness. Still others are left to contend with the relentless pressure of guilt. GOD HAS A BODY OF BELIEVERS TO GIVE HOPE TO EVERY PERSON THAT IS OVERWHELMED. Please come on the following dates; WE WANT TO LISTEN TO YOUR STORY, GET TO KNOW YOU, AND DO SOMETHING TO ALLEVIATE YOUR PAIN. No strings attached, we want to help!!

Now that, my friends, is the spirit of the gospel, and it’s what this world longs for.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | September 10, 2018

Stop Searching For Your “Something More”

Have you ever come across Christians who always seem to be striving, laboring and craving for the ever-so elusive “something more” that God has for them?

For some, this merry-go-round never seems to stop. Aside from the spiritual narcissism behind the incessant motivation, Christians who fail to embrace who they are and what they’ve already been given in Christ become easy prey for the razzle-dazzle, celebrity preachers of our day who love to promise the “something more” to the spiritually vulnerable through their books, conferences and teachings.

This highly popular yet phony teaching is typically presented in either one of two forms:

  1. You must “do” to receive your “something more” experience   

Indicative of an Old Covenant performance/reward mindset, the answer to the believer’s supposed dilemma is to simply do something more to receive something more. Just fill in the blank; pray more, give more, fast more, read your Bible more, evangelize more, worship more, etc… and at some undetermined point in time, you’ll receive your “breakthrough experience” with God. Rather than pointing people to the all sufficient Person and finished work of Christ and encouraging people to enter the rest of faith, notice how this teaching clearly puts the onus on the believer to “work” for God’s blessing. It’s the epitome of performance-based, oppressive religion… unfortunately with Christ’s name attached to it. If you’re on this road, take some advice from a fellow sojourner whose been there before; you’re on a dead-end street. Best to get off now and learn to live in the realm of grace than to pass out from exhaustion on the side of the road… becoming yet another casualty of religion.

2) Your “something more” will come through “new revelation/deeper knowledge”

I gladly stand in and espouse New Covenant grace. Yet I’m seeing a disturbing trend among many grace-folks these days: an inordinate focus on obtaining “new revelation” and deeper knowledge…. on grace! Much of this is being brought on by the many pop-up grace teachers who claim that their “new and better teaching on grace” is what believers need to “go to the next level” with God.

Unfortunately, the religious arrogance that emanates from those who travel this road for too long is no different than the religious arrogance typical of many evangelical fundamentalists; both erroneously think that adding “knowledge upon knowledge” will somehow elevate them to a greater spiritual maturity and “God-experience.”

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

I mean, how much knowledge on grace does one really need to just get on with life and start living? How much more “deeper revelation” do we need to simply begin embracing God’s love for us, and extending this same love to others? Evidence of spiritual maturity isn’t based on the knowledge we possess, but the relationships we cultivate and keep which bear kingdom fruit. If your “new and better revelation on grace” isn’t translating into fruitful kingdom relationships, then your knowledge is about as valuable as a used paperback at the local Goodwill.

Conclusion

As believers, we’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3), are complete in Him (Col 2:10), more than conquerors through Him (Rom 8:37), have been granted everything pertaining to life and godliness through Him (2 Pet 1:3), and are empowered by His love within (Rom: 5:5). Rather than frantically searching for the “something more,” we should be living right now in the “more than enough” that has been freely given to us in Christ. Indeed, the whole “God has something more for you” teaching is nothing more than a side-show distraction to walking in the fullness of Christ and living a life of love right now for the benefit of humanity.

However, encouraging believers to live in this reality won’t keep people coming to (and paying for) our “anointed” conferences, or buying our “breakthrough” 10 part teaching series. By keeping God’s people in a perpetual state of need (there’s more out there for you!), the money continues to flow, the system continues to operate, and the pews (and preacher’s pockets) remain full.

As the old adage goes, “The show must go on.”

 

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 30, 2018

Let’s Be Honest: Going To Church Can Be Overrated

I was recently enjoying a light-roast at my favorite local coffee-house when I entered into a conversation with a gentleman sitting close to me, who happened to be a pastor. Having found out that I’m a Christian, he asked me, “So, where do you go to church?”

Over time, I’ve learned to enjoy answering that question.

I answered the way I now always answer, which is, “I don’t.” Then I just stay silent, see what the reaction is, and wait for a reply. His response was typical; he assumed I had no real fellowship with others because I didn’t attend church, and felt compelled to share Hebrews 10:25 with me, which states in the King James Version:

“Not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together, which is the manner of some, but encouraging one another daily….”

It was his attempt to show me the “error of my way” and to get me to go to church.

I then politely explained to him how I actually did have regular, rich and encouraging fellowship with many, but my community experience was outside a traditional church setting. However, that wasn’t good enough for him; in his view, it didn’t matter and couldn’t possibly be legitimate if it didn’t involve going to church.

It was at that point that I shared with him how the “not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together” phrase from the King James Version was a very poor translation of the early manuscripts (due to Roman Catholic bias), and that the 1599 Geneva Bible translation was much truer to those manuscripts, which says,

“Not neglecting the FELLOWSHIP we have among ourselves, but encouraging one another daily….” (Hebrews 10:25)

His reaction was priceless; it was as if someone hit him over the head with a frying pan. But rather than considering the validity of what I shared, and accepting the fact that there is no “fellowship one with another” during a typical church service (one “talking head” while everyone else listens), he doubled down in defense of his position of needing to “go to church” to experience community.

One thing you can know for sure: for those whose livelihood depends on people faithfully attending Sunday services, they will defend it to the death, even when the very scripture they use to support their conviction is shown to refute their conviction.

Aside from being part of the ultimate community (the Trinity), Jesus’ “community reality” on earth was that of investing in an inner circle of twelve people…. people whom He shared life with, loved, served and ultimately gave His life for. But in our day and age, getting in the trenches with real people in the arena of real life, lifting one another’s burdens, and sacrificing our time, talent and treasure for each other just doesn’t fit well within our American culture of comfort, convenience, and narcissism (church culture included); we’d rather passively hear hot preaching, attend Sunday morning services, slap the name “Community Church” on it all, and then invite others to come enjoy our fake communities.

What a sham.

Rather than modeling Christ in relational reality, it’s grievous to see how many are still embracing an impersonal and artificial model instead; assembling together for the Sunday morning church service… something that will never produce community, although Pastors always say it will.

There’s a large mega-church in the Triangle; apparently one of the fastest growing churches in America. If I mentioned the name, you all would recognize it. The pastor and other leaders there talk much about community from the pulpit, and share how coming to services and being a part of one of their many small groups (structured, someone assigned to lead, controlled from the top) is the key to community. Well, I lost count of the people I’ve met who have gone to this church, have done everything the pastor and other leaders have said, for 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, and have walked away from that place relationally bankrupt; no real friends, no experience of family, community, etc… But oh, the preacher is so eloquent and preaches great sermons on community!! How ironic it is that one can preach great messages on the subject of community, yet all the while be the main character in the Sunday morning service… a religious exercise that acts as one of the greatest obstacles to Christians ever experiencing community.

Now, for those who say they’re always hearing about what the problem is but they never hear a solution, well, I’m going to share a solution; I’ve actually been sharing it for the last 3 years!

The degree to which we are willing to relationally engage with others in the arena of real life will determine our community reality. Period. End of story. There are no short-cuts.

A large mega-church, smaller community church, house church, small group, meetup group or any other organized gathering, regardless of how formal or informal, does not inherently have the power to magically produce community in anyone’s life, regardless of how often one attends. Only lives relationally engaged with one another in real life and given to each other in time, love and service will produce that. And it doesn’t have to be very many people! Unfortunately, most of us are more committed to a group meeting and hearing hot preaching than we are to one another in the arena of real life.

Finding our tribe outside of a traditional church environment undoubtedly takes time, and it can be a lonely road for awhile. But if you can hang in there and avoid being sucked back into the system, it’s well worth the wait.

May we be open to the people who come across our path, and find environments that are actually conducive to meeting people AND having casual, open conversation. If you sense good vibes with someone, be intentional and reach out to that individual for future connection. You never know who may become a true, life-long friend.

Personally, I would rather get together with a few people where open sharing and genuine love is present, than join the masses on Sunday morning to get a weekly Jesus-fix.

 

 

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | March 10, 2018

Uncle Elmer’s Revival

Elmer lives in a small town, thirty minutes outside of Akron, Ohio. A retired master carpenter for 35 years, he now works part time on weekends at the local hardware store. Yet inside his rough exterior is a sensitive heart that’s inclined to reach out to those less fortunate. And nobody knows that more than Elmer’s niece, Jenny.

Jenny, a 39-year-old former attorney, is severely disabled and confined to a wheelchair due to a horrific auto accident 8 years prior. Life is challenging for her, to put it mildly. Her lack of mobility doesn’t allow her to do many of the basic things that are necessary for her to take care of herself, and with no ability to drive, she must rely on others to take her to doctor appointments, bring her to the store and just get her outside the four walls of her small condo. When asked how she’s able to get through the challenges that each day brings, she shakes her head with a spirit of gratitude and explains, “I don’t know what I would do or where I’d be today if it wasn’t for my uncle Elmer.”

Elmer starts each week-day enjoying an early morning coffee at the local Waffle House, catching up with some of his long-time friends and engaging in friendly and oftentimes humorous banter with the wait staff. As soon as he begins to enter the restaurant, the staff gladly begins his order since it hasn’t changed in 8 years; one small light roast, two creamers, one bag of sugar and a lightly buttered English muffin. Over time, it’s as if they’ve become their own little happy family. At 9am sharp, Elmer leaves a $5 bill on the counter ($3 for his order with a $2 tip) and heads for the exit. No one bothers to ask him where he’s going or how he plans to spend his day; they’re already very familiar with Elmer’s love and service towards Jenny.

Elmer arrives at Jenny’s at 9:30; having a key to the door, he enters her condo, walks across the family room into the master bedroom and declares, “Jenny, do not fear, for Uncle Elmer is here!” to the warm smile of Jenny. He helps her to get from the bed into the wheelchair and they proceed to the kitchen, where Elmer prepares her favorite breakfast; blueberry pancakes, a glass of fresh orange juice and a side of fresh fruit.

No day is exactly the same with Uncle Elmer, but some things do remain the same, like the chess match they both look forward to after breakfast. Sure, they both enjoy chess, but Elmer also knows that this simple game helps to activate the right side of Jenny’s brain, which is responsible for one’s creativity and problem-solving skills…. something that’s invaluable to Jenny’s well-being, especially considering her susceptibility to depression.

After the match is over, Elmer relaxes in the Lazy-Boy recliner while Jenny gets online to check out the day’s main news stories and current events. She’s always enjoyed being “in the know” regarding what’s happening in and around the world, and this always seems to lead to some interesting discussion between Elmer and Jenny.

When Jenny has to go to the bathroom, Uncle Elmer helps her out of her wheelchair and onto the toilet seat, and then waits outside until Jenny says, “Done.” She has no ability to reach back and wipe herself, so she relies on Uncle Elmer to do that for her. This was awkward to Jenny in times past, but eight years of unconditional love and sacrificial service by Uncle Elmer towards her has gradually eroded those past feelings of shame and embarrassment.

After preparing lunch for Jenny, Elmer excitedly declares, “Today, I have a wonderful surprise for my lovely niece!” Jenny laughs and replies, “Oh, you know how I love surprises!”

“It’s a beautiful day, and I want to take you to a special place,” says Elmer.

He wheels her out to his minivan which is equipped with a chairlift for Jenny. Although the minivan doesn’t seem to be a match for Elmer’s rough exterior, he doesn’t care what people think; the van is not so much for him as it is for Jenny. The chairlift cost him a pretty penny for sure, but to Elmer, the investment is well worth it.

After a thirty-minute drive, he pulls into a parking lot adjacent to Willow Lake, which is one of the more scenic spots in the county due to the stunning display of willows surrounding the lake’s perimeter. After wheeling Jenny to a scenic overlook, he briskly walks back to the minivan and then returns with an easel, some brand-new canvas, a paint brush and some colors that he recently bought at the local Arts & Crafts store. “It’s peak bloom, and I thought you may want to catch this beauty on canvas,” says Elmer, as he leans down to give Jenny a warm hug. Jenny, at a loss for words, finally whispers a soft “thank you,” and for the next several hours enters into the beauty of God’s creation…. exercising her artistic talent which was evident even when she was a young child.

They pack up about 4pm and head back to Jenny’s. Upon entering her condo with the day’s masterpiece on her lap, she asks Elmer, “Do you think I should sell this one on E-Bay? Or keep it for myself?” Elmer, after a brief moment of thought, replies, “Well, if you ever get around to appearing on Shark Tank, this one might move Mark Cuban to dig deep into his pockets on your behalf!”

“Now that’s a plan.,” exclaims Jenny, as they enjoy a hearty laugh together.

For the next hour or so, they relax in the family room and engage in conversation. Elmer knows that Jenny’s struggle isn’t confined to just the physical, and it’s during these conversations that she oftentimes opens up about her thoughts, her dreams, her shattered dreams…, and the depression she periodically yet intensely struggles with. Elmer listens much more than he talks, knowing through his own past experience of losing his wife to cancer that what’s needed more than anything else during such times is an empathetic ear and the willingness to enter into and identify with a person’s suffering… rather than trying to “fix the problem” through pat answers or Bible proof-texts.

On this day, with teary eyes, Jenny confides, “Elmer, I was an aspiring attorney; all that schooling, the dream law firm, making a difference for all those victims of abuse, and now look at me. It’s hard not to think about where that could have led.”

Elmer, with his own teary eyes, takes the liberty this time to speak words of encouragement: “Jenny, your value to me, your friends, your family and our Lord is not based on what you do or don’t do, but on who you are. You’re precious to all of us, and deeply loved…. Never forget that. And as icing on the cake, you’ll always have our backing and support in whatever you choose to do in your life.” Elmer then stands up, lifts up Jenny’s Willow Lake painting, and adds, “And that would include the creating of masterpieces like this one.”

Jenny breaks out in a soft smile, and with a look of intrigue, exclaims, “Maybe I will go ahead and sell this on E-Bay.”

“If you list it for anything less than $500, you’re leaving money on the table,” replies Elmer.

Elmer & Jenny then move to the kitchen to end the evening with a dinner that Jenny prepares (with a little help from Elmer) at her lower table with the ingredients Elmer purchased last week from the store. Every Monday night, she prepares one of Elmer’s favorite dishes. Jenny explains, “I don’t do this to pay back Elmer for what he’s done for me, and I certainly don’t do it out of obligation. I make his favorite food not because I have to, but because I want to.”

After dinner, the doorbell rings. It’s Patty… Jenny’s longtime friend. She takes over at 6pm on weekdays to visit with Jenny and get her ready for bed. Elmer, before heading towards the door, leans down, gives Jenny a warm hug, and reminds Jenny that “tomorrow is Tuesday.”

“Oh yes!” replies Jenny, “can’t wait to see the crew at Waffle House for breakfast!”

“And they can’t wait to see you,” replies Elmer.

Elmer’s unconditional and sacrificial love and service to his niece hasn’t been seen merely by Jenny. The “regulars” and staff at the Waffle House have been touched by their special relationship first-hand every Tuesday morning for the last eight years and are all well aware that their time together extends far beyond a once-a-week breakfast.

Furthermore, Elmer’s family has taken notice. Although Elmer rarely goes to church like they do, no one can legitimately question the Spirit by which he functions, or the authenticity of his faith in Christ.

In addition, Jenny’s family has taken notice. They had tried helping Jenny during weekdays but found it too demanding and burdensome. They were prepared to pay a local facility to admit Jenny, before Elmer stepped in and insisted he get involved. They’ve been astounded at Elmer’s faithful and joyful service over the last eight years, knowing deep-down that Elmer operates in a love and is animated by a life-source that they simply do not possess.

In addition, Elmer’s co-workers at the local hardware store know about Jenny, and themselves have found Elmer to be warm and inviting. “Elmer is a great employee,” says his supervisor. “And whenever someone is going through a hard time, they seem to be naturally attracted to Elmer as a ‘safe place’ to share their burdens.”

And finally, there’s more to Jenny’s story than meets the eye. After her horrible auto accident, she went through a period of deep depression, questioning God as to why He would allow this to happen to her. One evening, she watched a dynamic TV preacher who promised a miracle healing to anyone who would be willing to sow a $1000 seed into his ministry “in faith.” Feeling so desperate due to her recent accident, she mailed the check and had one of her friends drive her to a nearby city to attend the preacher’s “Experiencing The Glory” conference. She went forward for prayer. Nothing happened. She was out $1000, and no miracle healing.

Jenny confides, “That experience not only cost me $1000… it nearly cost me my faith. I’d been exploited in the name of God, and quite frankly, I walked away from Jesus. But apparently, Jesus never walked away from me. Elmer has demonstrated to me what genuine faith looks like and what it’s all about. I’ve experienced ‘the real deal’ over the last 8 years, and my faith has been slowly but surely restored.”

His name is Elmer.

His “worship of Christ” is a life given over to love and service.

And his church is Jenny.

*******************************************************************************

Friends, the term “revival,” although not specifically used in the Bible, is often spoken of in Christian circles to describe a “spiritual awakening” of sorts. How this word is used, and ideas of what it consists of, usually depends on the persuasion within Christian religion that one is giving their attention to:

– The Baptist Church on the corner advertises that Evangelist So & So is coming to town next week for a “three-night revival….,” imploring people to come….

– A member of a downtown mega church speaks of “revival” taking place at his church, explaining how awesome the “worship” is with incredible music, lights flashing, smoke rising from the stage, and a dynamic worship leader who can “usher in the presence of God” (gag). Plus, the pastor’s teaching is really, really, REALLY good!! They’re experiencing “revival.”

– The charismatic personality-centered Apostolic & Prophetic sects of our day promise reform and revival to the Body of Christ through their “special knowledge” into the “deeper things of God,” like “submitting to Apostolic authority” or having “proper governmental alignment” (of course, the Apostles and Prophets are always at the top of the governmental order and should be shown ‘special honor’ for the office they hold…).

– The community church down the street claims to be in “revival.” After all, they had 20 decisions for Christ last month…, up 20% from last month! Of course, we never hear how many of these people are still around one year later and what their relationship with God (and others) looks like. These numbers likely won’t impress… if the leadership even knows these numbers, or the people who represent these numbers.

Instead of viewing revival through the lens of religion, what if our “revival” is simply a spirit of life and love received through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, AND LIVED OUT for the benefit of one another and humanity? What if we recognized that revival has very little (if anything) to do with the list above, but everything to do with an abundant increase of unconditional love and sacrificial service being experienced and expressed within the context of relationships? What type of “reform and revival” would come to the Body of Christ and the world if this was the reality we lived in, and lived out?

Not deep enough? Too simple? Not exciting enough? Don’t believe it? Consider what the scripture says:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love………” (Galatians 5:13)

“Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

“For Christ’s love compels us….” (2 Corinthians 5:14)

“Now these three remain… faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another… (Romans 13:8)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:13)

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)

“Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17: 20-21)

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 34-40)

How can it be that we’ve missed this?

It can be humbling to one’s religious pride to come to the realization that Uncle Elmer’s love and service to Jenny, and the resultant witness and effect to those in their sphere, has “revival” written all over it… while many highly charged church environments and charismatic ministries, saturated with celebrity preachers, dynamic personalities, church pageantry, side-show distractions, fringe novelty and manufactured stimulus, only offer an illusion of revival.

Many will not recognize Elmer’s “revival” as legitimate because he’s just a common man; his revival isn’t highly visible, doesn’t provide an adrenaline rush, isn’t flashy, won’t make the news, and it’s actually costly… an ethic that’s totally foreign to the narcissistic “bless me” fake revival environments of our day.

But it’s real.

Just ask Jenny.

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