2013: Sink or Swim . . . Together!

MP900390096Statistics may tell us many things, but they do not always tell us the truth. God’s redemptive action in history always trumps statistics. The ten spies reported the facts. God had  a higher reality.

However, to deny trends or to deny what statistics indicate is like playing in the band while the Titanic is sinking. Denial of the obvious is a particularly unique form of spiritual blindness. All the false prophets promised Israel that things were not that bad, and that their captivity wouldn’t last long. Their message found willing listeners. They were wrong.

All indicators are that the church in the West is in decline, not only numerically but also in substance and influence. Some might argue that if we are talking about “institutional” forms of “Christendom”–the nineteen or seventeen hundred-year-old counterfeit of Jesus’s kingdom–“good riddance” might be an appropriate response. Alas, the problem is unrelated to the structure of our gatherings, the quality of our theology, or the effectiveness of our practices, but rather the condition of our hearts.

Every time I point out a negative fact or trend, regarding our true state, I am met with: “but our church is not like that,”  “you shouldn’t criticize the church,” “there’s no such thing as a perfect church,” “we are the pure remnant,” “you should come and hear my pastor,” and other canards of denial. Funny, how a collection of wonderful churches, full of wonderful people, doing wonderful things for Jesus, results in overall spiritual and societal decline. Of course, MY church is wonderful,  the “other guy’s” church has problems.

Shiloh was a place of many wonderful interactions between God and Israel. However, it was reduced to a pile of rocks and overgrown vegetation when the substance of the life of God was lost in favor of much talk about God. External conformity to God’s demands without corresponding internal transformation is the DNA of decline.

A fire unattended and unfueled inevitably goes out. There’s a reason Paul exhorted Timothy to “fan the flame” of his faith: it’s prone to going out! An irrelevant pile of ashes of historical glory provides neither heat nor light. Real Christianity is always present. It’s hot. It’s alive. Anyone who actually lives like Jesus is really alive from the dead, will be a threat to people (and the institutions to which they belong) who have a philosophy of resurrection based on the Bible. We can handle a baby in a manger or a dead man on a cross. A baby and a dead man are not threats to how we want to do “our religion.” Let anyone actually live out of His resurrection life, well, that won’t be tolerated.  It’s a bush that doesn’t burn, and a fire that needs no fuel. That will not be allowed. It’s unmanageable.

Occasional, isolated, and cheerful exceptions at a local level, do not negate the overall trend in the West.  As leaders, we need to sound a clear alarm. The Church Universal, the Bride of Christ, is an eternal, unstoppable force. God’s redemptive reach is uniquely effective when impossibility and brokenness produce a cry for deliverance within hearts humbled by unpleasant circumstances. God’s hold on the future, and His determination for His bride, are not in question. Our participation with Him in it, is another matter.

Any local expression, regardless of how “wonderful our pastor” is or how “dynamic our worship team” is or “how relational we are,”  is not guaranteed existence and continuity: Ephesus–gone; Thessalonica–gone; Sardis–gone; churches in North Africa–gone; Europe–secularized, etc. You and I, and our “wonderful assemblies”  are not immune any more than our predecessors. When the talk of God exceeds the life of God, we are on the pathway to extinction, not withstanding our pious rhetoric and prayer for “revival.” God is not interested in reviving Bible philosophy clubs that happen to have a great lecture, great music, and a nice meal once or twice a week.

You can have a lovely private stateroom on a cruise liner, but if there’s a hole in the hull, the pleasantries of your stateroom will not save you from going down with the ship. Any of our local situations might be quite positive. However we will sink or float together in this matter. There is ONE Body. Daniel went into captivity with Israel. Jeremiah was not spared the rigors of Israel’s “divine chastisement” at the hands of a Babylonian invader.

Incarnational living in Christ does not exempt any of us from the travails of the culture we may worship or live in.  Rather, we will be the representative agents of God as we go into captivity together. God will “seed” us among the captives. The first Son was seeded into earth’s darkness and captivity, and all subsequent sons and daughters will be also.

Let each of us, in our assigned spheres of life and ministry, be sober and more resolute than we have ever been. Let’s burn. Let’s be hot. Let’s be light. Let’s remember that the ultimate act of spiritual warfare is not prophetic intercession or a spiritual warfare conference. It is a converted/transformed, soul who lives a transformed vibrant life in right relationship with God, one another, and humanity.

I pray God give each of us divine energy for every day that we have breath, that our lives may count for something other than American creature comforts and perpetuation of a way of life that may be filled with material blessings, but does not reflect Jesus’s kingdom interests.

In it together with you to the end . . .

Copyright 2012,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

10 comments on “2013: Sink or Swim . . . Together!

  1. the leven has gone through the whole lump , its almost 2013 , from our perspective we can ask ‘ wheres the power in the church ‘ ? , of course miracles do still occur and always will , but what im saying is that our comparisons are wrong , raising the dead , prosperity , knowledge , wisdom and agape should be shining out from EVERY assembly of born again believers , ,, lets say goodbye to dead denominational churches and mans doctrine ,,, allow god to transform our spirits so that we conform to the image that he intended for us , NOT the image that churches tried to enslave us with , ,, i am not a puppet nor am i conforming to a denominational ideal citizen ,,i am a born again child of god reconciled to the father through christ , i am NOT pew fodder ,,,, jesus christ is not a cross between mother theresa and ghandi , i am fed up with christians trying to create suburbia ,,, overcome the world , dont conform to it !

  2. Thanks Steve. If The energy and the focus we put into celebrating Christmas and Easter were put into knowing, the living God in his present exalted state. We would pick up where the book of Acts left off and would continue to function in life, till that which is perfect becomes manifest (the glorious church without spot or wrinkle, or the perfect body to be united with the perfect head).
    It is apparent that for most of the church, we think where we are at is normal and have no vision of maturity (future), more than to become stoic and die. It is that image the world rejects largely and I dare say God has rejected it also. We are the modern day Pharisee whose emphasis is upon observance of religious acts, from weekly temple attendance (church going) to keeping the high feast (Christmas) days with the added conference. While the work of God (that we may know him) is sidelined.
    I tell folk at this time the message of Christ was catholic(universal pertaining to all) but he was not Roman Catholic and had no Mass. God bless you and all your readers for 2013

  3. Steve,
    I read all your blogs I receive via email. But this one, especially the “together” message, resonates with me in a huge way! Thank you for putting language to a cry inside my heart.

  4. Thank you so much for this. I wanted to meet you at the gathering this past fall. I was so looking forward to meeting some people who I only know by what I have read.Unfortunately I was not able to come, but look forward some day to meeting Lord willing.

    I believe that only true God sent biblical brokenness is the place where the extreme happens. Extreme humility, extreme dependence, extreme hunger for whatever and however He wants. We have to come to this place. Without it we will like the Titanic keep steaming ahead in an arrogance thinking God will not allow us to sink. People realizing they on a sinking ship respond better to instructions for repair.It brings a word to mind “sober”.

  5. Lots of good thoughts. I think Paul’s warnings had authority because he was speaking to churches he helped start and to people he brought to Christ or was intending to bring to Christ. I think any person who does not like the current state of the church, must be working to start churches or partner with people starting churches. Otherwise we become Pharisees with lots of opinions but little power. We become the people who visited the church after Paul left, telling the formed church that Paul got it all wrong. Harvest is ripe, workers are few, but some are building bigger bleachers to watch and critique the game. Every week I get another book sent to my radio show talking about what’s wrong with the church. We’ve created a church critique ministry out of people with no or little relationship with a local church or the leaders they are assessing. In my personal opinion, Christianity spreds through authentic love. My father and mother authentically loved their kids, we are now all actively serving God, and so are our kids. So there is this exponential love thing going on that cannot be defeated by the enemy. It seems to me that the proud, “look at me” mega church pastor spirit is the same as the “I’ve given up on the church because they are doing it wrong” spirit. Both seem to be rooted in isolation.

    Anyway, there are many concerns and problems. I think they will ultimately be solved when we each go back to the harvest field and start harvesting more and critiquing less. Great workers make excellent instructors. Spectators, not so much. Keep up the good work. And a happy new year.

    Doug

  6. Oh my. Good stuff.

    You wrote: “Every time I point out a negative fact or trend, regarding our true state, I am met with… canards of denial.”

    I wonder if part of the problem is our difficulty acknowledging the problem. In many situations, we confuse our relational connection with our local congregation – something about which we feel good, involved, fulfilled.

    But the issue is not about “Does church make us feel good?” It’s more about “Is THE Church doing what she’s supposed to do?”

  7. Ultimately, though, all that has more to do with religion than it has to do with Christ. At the very least, it is not a life in the Spirit, for as the Apostle Paul says, “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). What are dissensions and factions? They are “acts of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:19).

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