Friday, October 16, 2009

Divine Evaluation

Revelation 1:12-13, “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.”

Jesus is in the midst of the lampstands, moving, working, ministering to His church. That’s what the lampstands represent (Revelation 1:20). Christ Jesus is in the midst of His people, but I wonder if there is something else, some other reason that Jesus navigates among the lampstands and so I offer this question: is the Lord Jesus looking for something?

In 2 Chronicles 16:9 the seer, Hanani, spoke to Asa, king of Judah, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” This statement comes as a rebuke to the king, for Asa had relied upon a worldly solution to his dilemma rather than trusting the Lord. These words come to the church today as a reminder that the Lord still searches the hearts of His own people. But what is the Lord Jesus looking for? Might He be looking for that lampstand, that church, even that Christian, which glows with no other light than His own? A light fueled by nothing less than the oil of His own Spirit?

When in the military, it was not uncommon for the commanders to gather their troops for inspection. They walked through the rank and file with their keen eyes set upon each soldier. They offered no encouragement, no pats-on-the-back. They inspected their troops and brought each soldier into compliance with their standards. Jesus doesn't walk in the midst of the lampstands simply to encourage but to examine, to evaluate the church and bring it into compliance with His standards. The second and third chapters of Revelation make that abundantly clear.

Jesus is looking at your life right now… what does He see? Does He see the flames of bitterness? Or does He see the darkness of doubt? Does Jesus see in you the embers of lost hope? The ashes of a forgotten faith? Does He see the missionary fires burning brightly? Does He watch the passionate flames of faithfulness despite the grip persecution? Will Jesus need to come into your life with the sword of His word and cut away the dross that diminishes your life? Will Jesus move through your church with encouragement or does he stand outside at the door, and knock?

They eyes of the Lord are upon you and He watches in order to commend or correct, to reward or rebuke. The Lord Jesus walks in the midst of his people and He is looking for something—He is looking for faith.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spiritual Dinosaur - The Prayer Meeting

What ever happened to the prayer meeting? Churches across the country have either canceled their prayer service or curtailed it to such an extent that it might as well be canceled. I’ve spoken with many pastors who have acknowledged the need for prayer but who have also decided that due to a lack of attendance, the time can be used for other endeavors. So, the prayer gathering of the church goes the way of the dinosaur, extinct with only fossilized remains to remind the church of what was.

Now I would agree that the dinosaur extinction is, perhaps, a necessity. I mean, who wants to go hiking in the mountains only to have a T-Rex disrupt a glorious morning? It ruins the entire experience. But is that the same for the prayer meeting of the church? Is the prayer meeting nothing more than a hindrance to spiritual growth and development—a disruption of other, more suitable activities?

First, prayer is the very breath of the Christian life. In the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, the entire scope of the Christian life is conveyed: Recognition of God as Father, yielding to His will, seeking His provision, receiving His forgiveness, living with forgiveness toward others, and following His lead through life (Matthew 6:9-13). As Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray.” Perhaps many churches have abandoned this model and degenerated into selfish, whim-based prayers? If so, the church must return to this model for the prayer meeting.

Second, prayer is one of the four devotions of the church (Acts 2:42). “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” These four devotions of the church (and I mean by devotion: that which is an anchor point of faithful living) must play out in the congregations of God’s people. If you will allow the illustration, these are the four legs that support the altar of the Christian life: the word of God (the apostles’ teaching), the people of God (the fellowship), the worship of God (the breaking of bread), and communion with God (prayer). Without prayer the life dynamic of the church will collapse like a table with a missing leg.

Third, prayer is the place where the church begins to see the power of God manifested. The great revivals of old all had at their foundation a collection of praying Christians. It was the group who gathered in prayer that originally received the outpouring of God’s Spirit (Acts 1:14; 2:4). The ground shook when the church prayed (Acts 4:31). Peter escaped miraculously from prison as the church prayed (Acts 12:5). The Bible says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call on the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13-15).

Christians want to see God respond mightily to the circumstances that are in the world. But I believe that God just might be waiting on the church to respond humbly to Him in prayer and repentance. The prayer meeting of the church is not a dinosaur, lost to the ages past. It might very well be the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), needing to hear the voice of God again and rise up on their feet, a vast army—prayer warriors all.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jumping (off a cliff) to Conclusions

Years ago, with no evidence and surreptitious accusations, men and women were tried and convicted of the ghastly crime of being—you guessed it—a witch. In the same vein, “drumhead courts” were conducted with swift collaboration and often harsh, if not brutal, judgments. These ancient forms of jurisprudence have managed to find their way into the modern vernacular, and now most everyone knows what is meant by a “witch-hunt.”

These “witch-hunts” still happen, but they happen in a different environment—the media. Today, turn on a television and watch the news and soon you will hear the various broadcasters mention someone who is accused of some heinous crime. However, the verbiage used is built around the assumption that the person is guilty. A man will be charged with some pernicious crime and the media blitz will speak against the “evil” man. They will discourse and dialogue with each other about how this man (or woman) could do the things they’ve been accused of. Now, remember, people are still innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn’t prevent the “talking heads” from maligning and destroying the character of the accused.

Christians must have a higher standard than what is purported on these accusatorial bandwagons. The standard for a Christian is: truth. Yet I am sure that the following scenario is familiar to you: a person is maligned through gossip or accusation and soon members of the church rise up and hop on the wagon, without evidence and without support. I remember as I sat in Bible study a woman of the church said, “Can you believe what [person named] did?” I asked her, “How do you know? Did [person named] tell you this?” Sheepishly she admitted that the evidence she possessed was little more than gossip. Ask yourself: how quickly do you navigate toward believing everything you hear about someone else? Or do you, as a faithful believer, question responsibly and seek the truth?

John the Baptist, when questioned by a group of Roman soldiers about repentance, said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). The Roman soldier was the ancient version of law enforcement. Imagine when a police officer arrests someone today, they bring all the weight of the law against the individual simply by the position they hold. So how important is it that an officer of the law makes sure that their accusation is viable? It is imperative! 1 Timothy 5:19 states, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” Yet, today, accusations in the church run rampant and are readily believed by those who have no knowledge of the circumstances.

Consider the exhortation given by James, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Consider Proverbs 3:30, “Do not accuse a man for no reason—when he has done you no harm.” Too many people are willing to jump to conclusions like lemmings off a cliff. It is time for Christians to take the higher road, the road of truth and turn a deaf ear to gossip and malicious slander. In this world of mass-media and multitudinous voices pandering to the fears of society, Christians can be the voice of reason and bear again the banner of truth.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Friday, September 11, 2009

Christian Conversation

The Lord responded to Moses’ complaint by asking a rhetorical question, “Who gave man his mouth?” If God gave man a mouth to speak, a language to use, a brain to think, then it stands to reason that God will hold accountable every man to the use of his words.

However, think how often a stray thought rushes from the mouth like a geyser, or an un-checked word escapes like a bat out of a cave? Believers in Christ are commissioned by God to use the tongue for His glory, to speak words for a more noble purpose, to take every thought captive and make them obedient to Christ. Is this how you approach your conversations with the world around you?

Consider what God’s word says. Psalm 37:30, “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.” Proverbs 8:7, “My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness.” These two passages of Scripture give a clear picture of what the mouth of a believer ought to voice—only that which is wise and true. Is this your utterance? Is this your conversation?

I remember, some time ago, when I walked with a group of Christians as we left a meeting. We navigated through the parking lot and made our way to the car, all the while speaking and laughing and carrying on with the wonderful fellowship we just experienced. However, one in our party thought to share a story—a witticism that carried a hint of vulgarity. As this person espoused the humor, the remaining members walked in stunned silence at the lack of Christian character displayed in the joke. When confronted, the person quickly defended the tale, saying it was, “just a joke.” Has true faith become so watered-down by the world that believers can casually share at a joke that is vulgar and crude without a shred of conscience? Was Jeremiah right when he said that the people of God had forgotten even how to blush (Jeremiah 8:12)? It was more than just a joke; it was a telling sign of what ruminated in that person’s heart. Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Paul entreats the church, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). Again the Bible states, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). And again in Ephesians, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (5:4).

All believers have a responsibility to God, to fellow believers and to the world at large to speak those words that will exalt Christ, edify the church and entreat the lost world to Jesus. Is this your conversation? It should be.

©2009 Rev. Michael Duncan