Reckoning with Reality

The year 2004 was welcomed by the Mississauga Assembly with our traditional ‘watch night’ service. It was a time of reflection as we spent much of the evening in praise and appreciation to God for His blessings in our lives. For most Christians this is the normal thing to do and failing to emphasize God’s blessings could be viewed as an expression of ingratitude.

However, beyond the pleasant aspects of life highlighted in a typical New Year’s Eve service, there are also negative realities that must not be overlooked. The scriptural statement that, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”, should not be limited to good things only, but must include both good and bad. (Rom. 8:28).

Though unpleasant to those of us who dwell in a realm of religious fantasy, the Christian life as portrayed in the Bible is not a ‘bed of roses.’ Rather, it is a pathway of thorns and trials with little reward in this life.

As one Christian poet wrote:

God has not promised
Skies always blue,
Flower strewn pathways
All our lives thro’;
God has not promised
Sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.

God has not promised
We shall not know
Toil and temptation,
Trouble and woe;
He has not told us
We shall not bear
Many a burden,
Many a care.

But God has promised
Strength for the day,
Rest for the labourer,
Light for the way,
Grace for the trials,
Help from above,
Unfailing sympathy,
Undying love.

Recognizing Reality

The age we live in is obsessed with fiction, and for those who provide entertainment for society, portraying reality is not considered a priority. It is therefore quite possible that God’s people, by their continuous association with the ungodly, have unknowingly imbibed their spirit. It is a fact that what the mind feeds on develops the spirit, and this in no way excludes the Christian. My conviction is that many of us are already ensnared and have lost our sense of reality. If this is so then we, the Church of Christ, must get a grip of our senses and, with God’s help, extricate ourselves from this realm of spiritual illusion.

To accomplish this, every trace of hypocrisy and pretense must be replaced with honesty and sincerity. We are to maintain our Christian integrity at all times and never ignore the fact that a true sense of reality will only be achieved by understanding God’s divine purpose. God’s will must hold precedence to our will.

Since character is developed by daily conduct, the child of God must do all things to please God. In describing his daily submission to the Father’s will, our Lord Jesus said, “I do always those things that please him.” (Jn. 8:29).

Personal Reality

In light of the aforementioned thoughts, I must conclude that 2003 was one of the toughest years of my life. It was filled with heartaches, disappointments and agonizing trials. It was as though the Devil was on a daily intercept course with my faith, and, had it not been for God’s mercy, I could have been totally dismayed.

I relate with the words of Isaiah when he stated, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.” (Isa. 1:9). The same could be said of Jeremiah who declared, “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.” (Lam. 3:1-2).

To depend on 21st Century Christian ministries for example and influence would make me very uncomfortable with my ministerial accomplishments. But God is good, keeping biblical examples as my major source of inspiration.

When feeling alone and rejected, I reflect on scriptural examples such as Elijah. Though he was a predominant Old Testament prophet, he experienced loneliness and rejection like every other man of God in the Bible. In the book of Kings he is quoted as saying, “…the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:10).

When depressed because of my afflictions I think of Job. This remarkable example of a man described as “perfect and upright” prevents me from finding fault or questioning the actions of God. As the scripture states, “Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.” (Job 34:12).

In times of self-condemnation for my sometimes blunt approach to preaching, I reflect on Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, John the Baptist, and for that matter any of the New Testament apostles. As the reasons for self-criticism increase so do the encouraging examples in Scripture.

Of course, my greatest source of encouragement comes from the Lord Jesus Himself. As scripture clearly states, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (Jn. 1:11). The prophet Isaiah wrote, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him…” (Isa. 53:3).

Bluntness of Reality

When considering the possibilities for public acceptance, one must be extremely naïve to believe that God is always obligated to open doors of opportunity for Christians. From the examples set forth in scripture I have concluded that the Devil opens more doors than God does, and, unless our minds are illuminated, we would be blind to this reality. A better understanding of God’s purpose and the methods He used as set forth in the Scriptures will give us greater clarity on this subject.

Let us not be deceived by the ‘health and wealth’ gospel being promoted by 21st Century ministries, but rather, understand that the path of discipleship includes self-sacrifice, trials, rejection and even martyrdom.

In addressing the subject of ‘blessings’ there is a great misconception in the Christian community. This tragic misunderstanding is the result of a thought pattern that the Christian life is one of jubilance, wealth and grandeur. Verses of scripture are taken out of context to justify a lifestyle that conflicts with Biblical examples. In many instances, what may be viewed as material blessings could very well be a curse, and many of the so-called doors of opportunity may be diabolic plots for spiritual destruction. Be it a promotion on the job, the accumulation of wealth or any other form of prominence in society, anything that detracts from spiritual growth must be treated as a curse and not a blessing.

When God and His work fail to hold priority in the lives of Christians, it is evident that discipleship is in regression. Scripture describes materialism and excessive carnal activities in the Christian’s life as “thorny ground.” The Word of God is choked in its growth and results in spiritual stagnancy and backsliding.

Laodicea is a classic example in which wealth resulted in ineffective Christian service. Prosperity was their curse, producing spiritual misery, poverty, blindness and nakedness. (Rev. 3:17-18). To recover from this awful state of religious gloom, the Lord recommended a period of fiery trials and purgings for the church of Laodicea.

However, unlike Laodicea, the small, persecuted and poverty stricken church of Smyrna was commended by the Lord as being spiritually rich.

Whether or not we agree with the concept of Christian suffering, its reality in biblical history stares us in the face. Whenever we are unable to appropriately interpret the text of Scripture, we may find guidance in considering its examples. After reading the 11th chapter of Hebrews, I would have to be extremely arrogant and blind to conclude that the Christian life is one of great joy and bliss.

But the reality of Hebrews 11 stands as a tremendous contradiction to the general Christian thought pattern of our day. It describes the afflicted, persecuted and martyred saints as having obtained a “good report.”

Where do we stand by comparison to these stalwarts of the faith? Their faith was not limited to a few healings but rather enabled them to endure their trials to the end. What kind of faith do we possess?

A good example to ponder is that of Moses. Hebrews 11:24-26 states, “By faith Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt…”

Our Reality

Let us consider for a moment the excessiveness of our North American society. Not only is there an over abundance of food, but also everything the carnal mind wants for self-gratification. Of course, this spirit of wantonness has infiltrated the Church. From my point of view as a pastor, most of the congregation is convinced that they ‘know it all,’ insomuch that I sometimes wonder if pastors are really needed. Everyone wants to preach, everyone has an answer to every question, and everyone has an opinion or a piece of advice for every problem.

Reality has become so obscure that the beggar will advise how to get rich, the overweight person how to lose weight, and the sinner will tell you how to get saved.

But we should not justify our hypocrisy by a dishonest use of the Bible seeing the godly examples of Scripture will witness against us. A good comparison of present day ministries against the examples of the Bible will expose the true extent of our spiritual stagnancy.

If ever there was a time that we needed to face the reality of our present inadequacy, it is now. After all, until we come face to face with our reality, we will never recover from our religious arrogance and the illusion of our spiritual superiority. As a result, we may never feel the need for receiving more from God.

For those of us in the ministry who will do anything to maintain a good public image, there is always the possibility that we too can enter into the realm of fantasy and blatantly close our eyes to reality. By guile and cunning we may even misappropriate God’s word to justify the illusions and false hopes we present to our congregations.

But should we ignore the volume of scriptural examples and separate ourselves from those who have suffered before us? Can the reality of Christian suffering be ignored in preference to the religious fantasies of our day? Is the desire for fame and power so strong that it blocks our connection to the apostles and prophets of the Bible? Are we simply blind to reality?

Maybe it is time that we, the Body of Christ, re-evaluate the authenticity of our claims and examine them against the reality of our religious accomplishments.

Are we as godly as we proclaim or are we just a prayerless and powerless group of people resting on the laurels of our heritage? The fact should never be overlooked that no movement is infallible and that even Israel — the chosen of God — was constantly rejected because of its rebellion. In considering the possibilities for rejection, the Apostle Paul exhorted the saints of Rome to, “Be not high minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee…otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” (Rom 11:20-22).

Are we like the nation of Israel as described in Isaiah 1? A people performing all the mechanics of religion — good music, good worship, good preaching and a tremendous grip of Scripture? Yet when it comes to reality, the limited deliverances we receive do not justify the physical manifestations which we esteem as evidence of God’s presence.

Unless we recognize the uselessness and hypocrisy of certain traditional performances, we will never see our need for more of God. As someone correctly stated, “If we continue to do the things we have always done, we will continue to be the people we have always been.”

Reality by Comparison

Similar to other aspects of Christianity that have deteriorated to mere formality, preaching the gospel has become little more than an effort for religious gratification. The Apostle Paul foresaw this satanic undermining of God’s purpose for preaching and warned that, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts [for religious fixes] shall they heap to themselves teachers…and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

In layman’s terms, the Apostle was prophesying about a period of time when fables about God (false doctrines) would be more appreciated than reality. He described this subtle deception in Christianity as, “the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth…for this cause God shall send them strong delusion [workings of error], that they should believe a lie…” (2 Thess. 2:9-11).

The purpose of preaching was intended to present truth and contradict religious fables and other misconceptions. God’s word was meant to produce conviction, followed by repentance and change. As Scripture declares, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12).

It is tragic that the Devil has successfully reduced preaching to ‘pulpit entertainment’, insomuch that in many of our North American churches few preachers initiate an actual response to their sermons. An inappropriate follow-up to profound messages will cripple conviction and cause education to replace inspiration. But this is no new phenomenon and caution should once again be received from biblical history. However, hindsight will only offer 20/20 vision if accepted as reality and becomes a viable source of inspiration. Reflection on Early Church lifestyle gives perfect examples for comparison. These will assist us in better evaluating our present condition.

As Luke documented, the Lord Jesus had completed His earthly ministry and was crucified and resurrected on the third day. The disciples were then sent to the upper room to await the promise of the Holy Ghost. Little did they realize just how transforming and spiritually invigorating the baptism of the Holy Ghost would be to a group of dejected and intimidated disciples. But it happened!

Unlike the fleshly methods and frivolous manifestations which are practiced within 21st century Pentecostalism, the experience received by the disciples on the day of Pentecost was genuine. Speaking in tongues was not the repetition of mere gibberish but, as Luke details, everyone in the upper room received the Holy Ghost. “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:3-4).

The experience was so genuine that the Jews of various nations who were gathered to witness this phenomenon heard these simple-minded disciples fluently glorifying God in fifteen different languages! Most amazing was the manifestation of a transformed lifestyle that followed.

The remarkable example of the Early Church saints should be a challenge to present day Christianity. An honest comparison of the Early Church lifestyle with our commitment to one another in the Body of Christ today may be what is needed to initiate our spiritual recovery.

As scripture states, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers…” The fear of God was upon every soul. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common.” (Acts 2:42-44). Simply put, there was no materialistic competition among them as exists in our society. The wealthier saints assisted the less fortunate, even if it necessitated the selling of personal possessions in order to accomplish this.

As we, the Body of Christ, examine ourselves against the examples of scripture, may God touch our minds to recognize the reality of our spiritual condition and help us to pursue a path of recovery. May God help us to realize that the self-righteous attitude of condemning everyone who is not a part of our movement will only serve to inflate our hypocrisy and blind our minds to our spiritual reality.

Truth is reality and reckoning with our reality may be the very truth that sets us free.