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Many ministers need to re-read their Bibles if they want to be effective

Those Who Sugarcoat the Bible Dilute Its Message.

They Will Be Judged by God!

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

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wake_up

The Bible is a gritty book. It’s very raw and very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without us. That’s exactly why Jesus died for each of us, only to rise again from death and the grave on the morning of the 3rd day. Yet despite that, it seems like some Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really can be. Although the factuality of the Bible through the belief in the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit is the foundation of all the Scriptures (with Jesus being the cornerstone), the Bible has a way of being just as earthy as a day of doing yard work around the house (if you’re lucky enough to still have one of those after the real estate crash of 2008). But there are others who feel the need to sanitize God by making His Word politically correct. God has already instilled true correctness within each of us because He alone is our source and our strength. Which is why any true Jesus follower has no time or patience for political correctness. I’m told that’s one reason why my weekly blog is becoming so popular.

 

For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags”, as the more sanitized King James says. But the original Greek and Hebrew didn’t say “filthy rags”; it said “menstrual rags.” But that sounded a little too gross to the Bible’s 17th century English translators, so they just relabeled it ‘filthy’ instead. And while churches avoiding talking much about Jesus being naked when He was on the cross, let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the original Hebrew and Greek would have more accurately been translated. Oh yeah, and let’s definitely not mention the ten commandments in the Old Testament. That might be unpopular. Never mind that between the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy there are a total of 630 of them. That could expose people as being the sinners that we all truly are. God forbid they should be so ‘offended’!

 

What’s the point to this rant? God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. God couldn’t care less about political correctness, and I feel the same way. When I open my mouth, I don’t care if anybody ‘likes’ me or not, and so it is with God.
After all, it’s better to command respect than to desire popularity. God intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured and dying planet. There are dozens of Psalms that are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God – not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help”.

 

And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to the apostle Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us, as he wrote: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”(1st Corinthians 10, verses11-13). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable. I have gradually arrived at the conclusion over time that the Scriptures include such graphic material to show how far we as the sum of humanity have fallen and how far God is willing to come to rescue us from ourselves. God is much more interested in honesty than piety, and in our Spiritual state rather than in how religious we are. And that’s what He gives us throughout Scripture by telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.

 

Peter struggled with doubt and with a bad temper. We read all about it when Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane (Luke 22, verses 49-51). Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers. David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk and Moses was on the run from a murder charge. Even Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1). Was it not Jesus who said, “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”? It’s all a matter of priorities. “I desire mercy”, Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. Let’s not boast to God about how often we attend church, or how much one may “tithe” each week. Never mind your rituals, Jesus was saying. ‘Tell me about how much you did for others whether they deserved it or not. I want to know how well you treated others, and I want to know what you did to make a positive difference in their lives’. That’s all that matters to Jesus in the end! We either kept his commandments or we didn’t.

 

It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces. I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as being pious or condescending. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he was perceived as associating with “sinners” (Matthew 11:19). His first miracle was changing water into wine, and it is documented in all four gospels that wine was served and consumed at the Last Supper. (So, people who insist that one must be a teetotaler to go to heaven when they die are not only incorrect, they are judging people they don’t even know.)

 

Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” Following Jesus is more than just being dutiful or subservient, but instead it is richly rewarding to the point of being exhilarating! Our church services can’t hold a candle to what heaven will be like. Jesus promised us that heaven would be like a homecoming celebration, an enormous block party, and a wedding feast to which all are invited, all at the same time! This idea was too radical for the religious leaders during the time of Christ, and in some cases it still is. There are too many churches today who are more concerned about vain traditions and pompous religious rituals that aren’t even in the Bible than they are about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they keep missing out! That’s why many of us miss out. Pardon me, pastor, but did you say ‘party with Jesus’? Yeah, I sure did! However, before I go any further I am well aware that there are some individuals who simply cannot touch alcoholic beverages at all, but I’m sure that the eternal party in heaven will be far better than that. There are still others who abstain by choice, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. I’m only saying that I don’t think it’s a sin to drink unless it is done to excess.

 

According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (“So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” John 8:36), and by love rather than ritual (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ‘Well said, teacher’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices’.” (Mark 12:30-33).

 

Another hallmark of a truly Spiritual life is one focused on peace rather than guilt (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27). I don’t believe some will ever recognize their need for the light until they have seen the depths of darkness. So God isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness and grace. Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), and only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and tradition and frees us to cut loose and celebrate! We don’t need to edit God. It’s our brains and our hearts that need a good editing. We need to let Him be the author of our new lives and the construction superintendent for our growing and expanding faith. The time is getting short, people! It’s time for all of us to lead more Spiritual lives, because Jesus will be returning soon, and at a time when you do not expect him. What’s at stake is where we will spend eternity, and there is no more serious subject than that.

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There Will Be a Guest Blogger This Week

While I’m away at the Piedmont Park Summer Arts Festival, I’ll be trying something new by having a guest blogger submit a post for just this weekend. So sit back and enjoy this 2014 article from Flickr contributor Ashley Campell (cross-posted by Rob Winters) on the nature of prophetic ministry and its notable importance. The first thing I need to do here is to define the word ‘prophetic’ in terms that are appropriate for Christianity. It does not mean, ‘to tell the future’. That is how the Occult defines that word, and you can be sure the Occult and Christianity have nothing at all in common! ‘Prophetic’ in Christian terms simply means to declare the Word of God in such a way that applies to the here and now. We carry out this task by relying on the Bible as our main reference from which to derive that prophetic Word. The guest posting below explains how we all can do this for our mutual benefit, as well as the benefits thereof.

7 Characteristics of Authentic Prophetic Ministry

11/19/2014 by Rob Winters, Power of God Ministries

cross posted from (Flickr/Ashley Campbell)

Nothing less than a Third Great Awakening will rescue the Bride from the quagmire of apostasy in which we have found ourselves sinking. It is therefore imperative that authentic church leaders emerge to awaken the body and spearhead rescue efforts. Much has been written regarding the restoration of modern day prophets and apostles and their leadership role in the church, yet some crucial responsibilities of these offices have either been overlooked or ignored.

 

For example, many prophets have succumbed to the body’s insatiable lust for personal prophecy and prosperity—speaking only what our itching ears long to hear instead of what our depraved hearts need to hear. Consequently, the household of God at large is on shaky ground, having huge cracks and cavities in its foundation. Devoid of righteousness and justice, many have been bewitched into adopting a gospel of boundless grace and have unwittingly plunged into the depths of hedonism and narcissism—all in the name of a loving and merciful God (Psalms 11:3; 89:14).

 

It is therefore crucial in this hour that the church embrace authentic prophetic and apostolic ministers whose respective roles encompass restoring righteousness and justice to our foundation. While many today are focusing on the restoration of apostles, it is important that we take a step back and reexamine the comprehensive role of the prophet. Although there are differences regarding some aspects of Old and New Testament prophetic ministry, there are elemental truths that can be resurrected from the Biblical account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple under Zerubbabel (Eph. 2:19-22).

 

During Israel’s captivity, Zerubbabel and a remnant of Israelites were commissioned by Persian King Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. After two years of rebuilding efforts, the Israelites ceased working on the temple for a period of 14 years due to Samaritan opposition. At this juncture the Lord sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to confront the Israelites. The result was their wholehearted re-engagement in rebuilding the temple, which they completed in only four years. What did these two prophets say or do to turn about this complacent remnant? Will the Lord commission His prophets today to awaken a sleeping church, and catalyze the body to rebuild our crumbling foundations? Let’s pray so (Ezra 5:1-2).

The following seven characteristics of authentic prophetic ministry can be gleaned from this account.

 

  • A Call to Repentance – In his address to the Israelite remnant, Haggai challenged them to consider their ways, specifically their complacency regarding the Lord’s house and their zeal regarding their own houses and possessions. Sound familiar? Similarly, Zechariah confronted their apostasy, encouraging them to repent and return to the Lord. Without a doubt, this type of bold confrontation of sin must first be heralded from our pulpits before we will ever witness the depth of profound repentance necessary to turn the church around and the world upside down (Hag. 1:2-9, Zech. 1:3-4).

  • The Voice of the Lord – Haggai’s account indicates that the entire remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet. In an age when so many claimed to speak in behalf of God, Haggai made a distinction between the Lord’s words and his own words. Today, the church is facing the same dilemma. Not all who say, “Thus saith the Lord,” speak for the Master. Some prophesy as a means to gain popularity and prosperity or to promote their pet doctrine. Therefore, it is crucial that the eyes, ears and heart of the body are conditioned to distinguish between the voice of the Master and that of a charlatan (Hag. 1:12).

  • The Fear of the Lord – Authentic prophetic ministry is also accompanied by the spirit of the fear of the Lord, producing genuine repentance and radical obedience. Haggai’s and Zechariah’s ministries yielded this kind of fruit, and so must prophetic ministries today. Like Jesus, prophets who delight themselves in the fear of the Lord partake of that same spirit by dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. Without the spirit of the fear of the Lord, preaching repentance has about the same effect as brow beating.

  • Stirs Up the Remnant – Haggai’s preaching “stirred up the spirit” of the entire remnant, inspiring them to resume rebuilding the house of the Lord. Authentic prophetic ministry should “cut to the heart,” provoking a passionate response to the Word of the Lord. Unfortunately, over the past 40 years the majority of American Christians have turned a deaf ear to the Lord’s command to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways. Consequently, we have found ourselves in a spiritual wilderness and our land is in need of much healing (Hag. 1:14; 2 Chron. 7:14).

  • Prospers the Remnant – The book of Ezra records, “the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel.” Although much of modern Christendom associates prosperity with wealth, the Old Testament word for prosperity means “to break out mightily” or “push forward.” Authentic prophetic ministry enables us to boldly break out of the bondages and eliminate the excuses that keep us from pushing forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ezra 6:14; 2 Chron. 20:20).

  • Ever-Increasing Glory – Those among the remnant who were old enough to remember Jerusalem’s former temple wept over the new temple because it was most inferior. Nevertheless, Haggai prophesied that the glory of the latter temple would be greater than the former. Similarly, in these last days, while cathedrals remain dormant, our chapels and tents will be filled with hungry people seeking and finding the glory of God (Hag. 2:6-9).

  • The Burden of the Lord – Two of the three biblical references of the phrase “the burden of the Word of the Lord” are found in Zechariah. Much of prophetic ministry today is associated with man’s private agenda instead of God’s purposes—a product of what is on men’s hearts instead of what is on God’s heart. Conversely, authentic prophetic ministry begins with a burden from the Lord that finds expression through soul travail and a burning word from heaven that cannot be contained. That burden only comes by dwelling in the secret place with the Most High (Zech. 9:1, 12:1; Jer. 20:9).

Father, restore authentic prophetic ministry to Your church, that we might be awakened from our slumber, shaken out of our complacency and inspired to radically carry out Your purposes in the earth. Commission Your prophets, that they might carry Your burden, preach repentance and restore righteousness to Your church’s foundation, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Rob Winters is president of Prepare the Way International, an itinerant prophetic ministry based in Glendale, Arizona. He is author of numerous books, including Turning America Back to God and Prophets and Prophetic Ministry. For more information, visit his website at preparethewayint.com.

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