Revival, Race, and Reconciliation

I’m a middle-aged white man born in Mississippi, raised down South, and living in Greater Philadelphia (the one in Pennsylvania, not Mississippi) for twenty four years. Unfortunately, the racial tension I observe is higher now than at any time in my adult life. Fortunately, I have the amazing privilege of being the pastor of a very multi-ethnic church. Such a church gives me a perspective on race that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Only by the grace of God, I haven’t had the “liberty” for the last twenty years to develop my thinking in line with a monocultural view.

Revival Race and Reconciliation

Recently our church had a Sunday devoted to “hot-button” issues. People in the congregation could text their questions anonymously and I would answer as many as I could get to. After the services, the most feedback I received by far was regarding my response to questions on Black Lives Matter. Here are my thoughts:

I Caught a Train!

But is it worth it?

I remember as a kid watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which a dog catches a train. For some reason that image has stuck with me, and occasionally it comes to mind when I think about chasing after big goals and dreams. I can still see that dog, hanging on to the front of a train, exclaiming, “I caught a train.” Maybe the dog didn’t so much catch the train as the train caught or whacked the dog. A great spiritual revival can be a little bit like that.

ARE YOU READY FOR REVIVAL-

We chase after a move of God and when it happens, it’s a lot like being hit by a train! It’s not something that we catch as much as the move of God catches us. And when it hits us, it can really give us a big wallop. We can’t carry or control a genuine revival. We can’t make it happen just like we want it to happen. And not every aspect of revival is going to be pleasant. It’s a lot of work and a lot of disruption to our lives. Some people who have led in previous revival movements know what I’m talking about. Some may even question whether they want to go through all that again, wondering if it’s really worth it. Well, it is worth it.

Prayer, Politics, and Spiritual Awakening

Some calls to prayer are not expressions of faith in God!

Every four years, it seems that a lot of American evangelicals get really serious about prayer. Many who don’t pay too much attention to prayer efforts in other years start paying attention during presidential election years. I would like to suggest that an urge to pray just during election cycles is not a result of faith in God. It’s really the opposite of faith in God.

Prayer politics and awakening

The motive behind the newfound attention to prayer in an election cycle appears to be a desire to get the “right” politician into office. That is not an expression of real faith in God. It’s faith in a political leader! It’s almost as though we’re telling God, “Just help us get the right person in the White House and we’ll handle it on our own after that.”

Stop praying for revival? Maybe!

Maybe we don't need to pray for what we already have...

Why on earth would I ever say that maybe we should stop praying for revival?

Last night I heard a powerful message by Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong Church New York City. It was a moving biblical sermon on the importance of making spiritual progress as followers of Jesus. People left encouraged, but also challenged to stop making excuses for our failures to be and do all God has planned for us.

While I fully agree with the main thrust of the message, I want to nitpick a little bit, realizing that my differences are very minor. (It’s important to learn how to listen to a sermon and still hear what God is saying, even when you don’t agree one hundred percent.) The statements I want to address were something like this: “Stop praying for revival to come down from heaven,” and, “You don’t have to pray for boldness; you got boldness 2,000 years ago!” Those aren’t exact quotes, but they’re pretty close.

Who initiates revival?

Can people start a revival? Or can only God start a revival?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I know that there are plenty of opinions on this question, and I don’t intend to weigh in on the topic myself. However, the question is intended to be representative of circumstances in which we can’t be totally sure of cause and effect. So in the case of revival, who starts it? God? Or do we? I have a strong opinion on that, and I’ll share my thoughts on it, but first I want to acknowledge why there would be some confusion.

Revival-

Why do we need revival? Part 5

Good churches in a changing world need revival, too

Last week I had the best conference experience of my entire ministry life. Over the years, I’ve been to more conferences and seminars that I can count. I’ve attended preaching conferences, prophetic conferences, leadership development conferences, spiritual growth conferences, coaching conferences, pastors conferences, denominational conferences—you name it. Some were Pentecostal, some were Evangelical, some were Charismatic, and a couple might have been crazymatic. Most were really good in terms of achieving their intended purpose. But the best by far was the 2016 Hillsong Conference in Sydney, Australia.

 the best!

Why do we need revival? Part 4

Preparation for adversity

Are you ready for what God has in store for your future? I firmly believe this: God has a wonderful plan for your life! I also believe that the devil has his plans, too, and that he doesn’t want to make it easy on you. Why should he? You are a threat to the kingdom of darkness, and he knows it. I hope you know it, too. So we shouldn’t be too surprised when, even as faithful followers of God, we face adversity. A time of revival might just be God’s way of getting you ready for facing down your enemy, the devil. Remember, Jesus went straight from being filled with the Spirit at his baptism into a time of testing by Satan. (Keep reading to the end for a key insight on what God might be up to in our expectation of a national spiritual awakening.)

the best!

Why do we need revival? Part 3

Too much of a good thing!

This post actually scares me a little bit. The reason I’m so hesitant about the topic I’m going to cover is that one of the primary reasons churches need revival is because we can overdo a good thing. And when we overdo this good thing, revival movements can lead us to throw out the good thing altogether rather than just getting it back in proper order. And yes, the good thing is about proper order; that is, it’s about organization. 

Why do we need revival? Part 2

"Pastor, you don't preach enough against sin!"

“Pastor, you don’t preach enough against sin!” During my early days in pastoral ministry one of the church leaders challenged me on this point. He then rattled off a number of sins being committed by specific people in our church—and I needed to preach sermons dealing with their sins.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in many respects he was absolutely correct. I needed to preach more against sin. But, if you are someone who believes pastors ought to deal with sin more directly in their sermons, be careful what you wish for. The sin your pastor preaches against just might be your own!

Sin in the church is a major reason for the need for revival. Old Testament “revivals” tended to occur after a period of Israel’s disobedience to the Lord. Israel would fall into sin and would then fail to experience God’s blessings and protection. In their distress they would repent of their sins and cry out to God. Then God would raise up a deliverer who would, at least temporarily, restore Israel to right relationship with God.

When we drift from right relationship with God, we are more likely to give in to our sinful desires. Then, our guilt, or perhaps simply our preference for disobedience, will keep us from experiencing God the way we should. The prevalence of sin among Christians is ample evidence that we need a fresh move of God.

But here’s my question: What sins are evidence of our need for revival? Usually we think of the “big” sins, more likely than not to involve some sort of sexual immorality. Those sins, when rampant in the church, are clear indications of the need for revival. There’s another kind of sin, however, that is just as big an indication that we need revival. It’s a sin that the Bible tells us brings us into an oppositional stance with God. What sin could that be? It’s pride. “God resists the proud.” When Christians become full of pride, comparing themselves with one another, gossiping about one another, becoming smug about their spirituality, we are in big danger, often without even realizing it. That was certainly the case with me before my first experience with revival. (I look forward to sharing that story at another time.)

After experiencing my first taste of revival, I realized that I did indeed need to preach against sin. The sin God put on my heart to confront was the sin of spiritual pride. Was the church leader who reprimanded me happy about that? No! His intention was that I preach against other people’s sins—not his own. Let’s get right with God in expectation of another Great Awakening!

If you receive this post through email, click the link in the title. That will take you to the actual blog site where you can leave your comments. I’d love to hear from you on reasons we need revival, your own revival stories, questions you might have about revival, or anything else you have on your heart.

Why do we need revival? Part 1

Some of the reasons will surprise you

“We need a revival!” I’ve heard this cry in pastors’ prayer meetings many times. I believe it is as true today as at any point in the last few decades: We need a revival! But why do we need revival? I hope to provide some answers in a series of posts starting with this one. A few of the answers will be surprising to you, so make sure you keep reading over the coming weeks.

Of course, one of the first and most obvious reasons we need revival has to do with the hearts of individual Christians. We were made for an experience with God, the most important experience being so radical in nature that Jesus referred to it as being born again (John 3). Vital Christianity doesn’t settle for a one-off, though. We have the ongoing experience of Romans 8:16, God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. God’s Spirit doesn’t just bear witness with our minds. He impresses the truth of our identity as sons and daughters at the deepest level of our being, our spirits. This is experiential knowledge that involves more than intellectual assent to doctrinal truth. What a blessing to live in continuous awareness of how much God loves us!

The problem for most of us, however, is that we don’t live in that continuous awareness. Intellectual assent to scriptural truth is very important–God wants us to love him with all our minds as well as with all our hearts. But, it’s easy to slip into an approach to God that is too dependent on our minds. We no longer depend on the Spirit’s witness.

When my daughters were really young, every once in awhile I would abruptly say, “Guess what!” My daughters would respond, “What?” as they eagerly anticipated some exciting news. Then I’d say, “I love you!” After some time, though, whenever I said, “Guess what!” my daughters would automatically say, “You love me!” Thankfully, they always said it with a smile. They were glad to receive the affirmation. They never seemed bored or dismissive in any way.

“Guess what! I love you!” always seemed to be exciting news for my children. How much more exciting when God the Father speaks it to our spirits. It’s important for dads to affirm their love for their children. It’s also important for us as children of God to keep listening to God’s affirmations.

Our God is a good Father and has never stopped saying, “Guess what! I love you!” But I think we sometimes get bored and dismissive. We take it for granted because we know it intellectually. Most of us have been taught to believe the truth: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s good! Many have never been taught, however, to remain open spiritually to God’s direct affirmations by his Spirit. When we reduce God’s affirmation of fatherly love for us to a doctrinal truth only, we are in danger of losing the excitement of an ongoing experiential grasp of the truth. We are in danger of being dismissive, indifferent, or just bored with our faith. If we have taken on the attitude that says, “Yeah, yeah, I know: You love me,” then we need a fresh touch from the Holy Spirit. We need revival.

Revival is needed for other reasons than this, though grasping God’s love for us is primary. What’s your experience? What are some reasons you can think of that we need revival, either as individuals or as the body of Christ at large? I’d love to know your thoughts! Scroll down to share your insights in the comments section.