Background: In light of everything going on in the country, I previously made a case that we need to gather people together and pray and fast. Since that post, things have continued along the same course. It’s time to become more intentional about moving forward. Please join us for a three day, virtual solemn assembly next week.
Here are the details:
When: We are holding a solemn assembly, virtually and in small groups, starting on Tuesday, April 7th at 7:00 PM Central Standard Time. The goal will be prayer meetings on Wednesday (4/8) and Thursday (4/9) as well.
How: We will gather virtually to start each meeting with the help of Zoom. People gathering are encouraged to fast for the three days of solemn assembly.
Where: To be determined. We want to gather in various places across our city in groups smaller than ten, government permitting, for those that are able and want to meet together. (More on where below.)
Who: If you are a believer in Jesus, we encourage you to join us.
Leaders: While the names of people who are leading isn’t important, we are looking for people who will join us in opening their homes for small gatherings. If you are interested in opening up your home for a group of ten or less to pray, please join us on a call to talk about the details of the upcoming solemn assembly. This call will be accessible using the following Zoom details:
Time: Mar 31, 2020 07:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 571 011 773
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So where do we go?
I think this is where many of us our struggling. Our natural inclinations in a normal crisis would push us closer to others in the church or push us to share the Gospel with those who don’t have it. This crisis, though? We’re being told that the most loving, compassionate thing we can do is to hide ourselves from others. While I understand the science behind why, I think many people are having a hard time knowing what to do in this moment.
God’s Answer in the Crisis
God has an answer for crises throughout human history and we find them in the book of Joel. Yesterday, we looked at the crisis that broke out in Joel’s day and what it means for us. Today, I want to take a look at a specific action he called on the nation to take: Sacred Assemblies.
After Joel reminds the nation depth of judgment they’ve been in, Joel tells the people how to respond:
Consecrate a fast,Joel 1:14, New American Standard Bible
Proclaim a solemn assembly;
Gather the elders
And all the inhabitants of the land
To the house of the Lord your God,
And cry out to the Lord.
What is a solemn assembly? It’s where everyone suspends business as usual and gathers together to return to the Lord. Joel later says,
‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord,Joel 2:12-14, New American Standard Bible
‘Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.’
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil.
Who knows whether He will not turn and relent
And leave a blessing behind Him…
God has an answer for the crisis in front of us and it’s not only to sit in front of our TV’s and wait for sickness to past. We are being called to assemble before God, call a fast, and repent. The point is not to perform a religious ritual. The point is to enter in to a process of repentance. God’s answer for the crisis is for us to use it as a time to turn us back to God. This is really not all that different than what Jesus said about the crises that disciples asked Jesus about. “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” (Luke 13:5).
Solemn Assemblies in Light of Covid-19
This particular crisis is full things that we haven’t seen before. One of them is the nature of the crisis seemingly demands that we separate rather than gather. How do we gather solemn assemblies in the hour of Covid-19?
As of this writing (7:00 AM on 3/24/2020) the CDC is recommending not meeting in groups larger than 10 people to prevent the spread of this infection. This obviously limits the size of solemn assemblies, something we’ve seen generally in the hundreds, especially in times of crisis. Some states and cities have shelter in place orders that are not allowing for people to leave their homes at all.
The answer is to still call solemn assemblies. We just need to make them smaller.
We need a two pronged approach. There’s still a place for many in our nation to gather together in groups of ten or less and pray in their homes. For those that have this freedom and are not in the category of immuno-compromised individuals, I would suggest gathering together to pray. Gather together with fellow believers. Much of the world has been changed in the past when small groups of believers gather together and pray. Fast and pray together. Seek the Lord for your city’s welfare, for the welfare of your church, and the welfare of this nation.
For those who are in shelter in place states/cities or are in an immuno-compromised state, as much as I hate to admit it, now is the time to take advantage of existing technology to gather in groups and pray together. Zoom, a video conferencing solution used in business is getting a lot of air time lately. They have free and paid options. You can find alternatives for Zoom here. Use these technologies in conjunction with other believers to gather together and pray.
The crisis is too great to sit on the sidelines.
What This Will Require
This will require a new level of leadership from those who have never thought they were leaders. There will be those who have never started something that will be required to stick out their neck and try something they’ve never done. There will be people who have never prayed out loud before that will need to pray out loud. You will find yourself doing things that you only thought pastors needed to do in the past. None of this is bad, it’s just uncomfortable. Remember, we are in an hour like no other. It will require us to do things we’ve never done before.
Who knows whether the Lord will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him?
Consecrate a fast.
Gather the elders.
Cry out to the Lord.
It’s a little bit of an understatement to say we are living in the midst of a crisis. Unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime, COVID-19 has single-handedly brought everything in the country to a near standstill. Nothing, not terrible natural disasters, not mass shootings, not even the terror attacks on September 11th have touched this country, it seems, in the way that this virus has.
Regardless of how serious you feel the virus is itself, the crisis we find ourselves in is real. As of this writing 15,219 people are infected and 201 people have died in the United States in a very short period of time. Beyond just the physical impact to bodies, a pandemic of fear has gripped the country and measures taken to slow the spread of the virus have shut down large parts of our economy.
This is a crisis. Which is why I’m concerned.
The Church Should Lead in Times of Crisis
The church has a particular responsibility in the midst of crisis to respond with leadership and the mandate of heaven for the hour that we’re living in. So far, most of what I’ve seen has been the church following the guidance of the CDC.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to undermine or underestimate the importance of cleanliness or not touching your face, but much of the church is operating as if the only answers they have are the answers of the secular government. We should honor and respect the leadership God has given the government, but there is always more the church can do.
This is the problem. God has an answer for crisis and it’s not only sitting in front of your television in an effort not to spread disease. So much of the body of Christ has been divided into two camps: A group that is content to resemble the world, stay home, and watch Netflix or a second group that has been obsessed with trying as best as we can in a COVID-19 world to re-establish business as usual in the church. The first group acts as if this is a giant vacation. The second group has busied themselves with live streams to replace the church and online giving platforms to keep the money coming in. Both fall short of God’s plan for the church in times of crisis.
God’s Strategy for Crisis
What is God’s plan for crisis? And how do we respond? Briefly let me introduce to you to the book of Joel. It is written by a prophet caught in a crisis. Locusts have devastated Israel’s agricultural economy by eating everything. Joel, asks questions that feel so appropriate, even now:
Hear this, O elders,
And listen, all inhabitants of the land.
Has anything like this happened in your days?Joel 1:2, New American Standard Bible
Not only is there a crisis, but it’s going to get worse. Joel comes with a message from the Lord to awaken his people like a trumpet (Joel 2:1). He calls the people to gather together and consecrate a fast (Joel 1:14). The goal of the fast is a full turning back to the Lord (Joel 2:15). We’ll talk more about that in a future post, but I can’t over-emphasize a small point that you could miss. Here’s what Joel says to a people in the midst of crisis:
Blow a trumpet in Zion,Joel 2:15-15, New American Standard Bible
Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly,
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and the nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom come out of his room
And the bride out of her bridal chamber.
It’s No Longer Business As Usual
Part of God’s solution in the midst of crisis is to suspend normal activity. We can’t act as if everything is normal if it’s not. It’s almost as if God is trying to shake Israel (and us) out of their spiritual sleep. Here they were in the midst of crisis and people were still separated, still taking care of the kids, still marrying and being given in marriage. And Joel, like a trumpet, says, “Stop. Quit trying to act like everything is normal. It’s not normal. This is a crisis and it demands a response from the people of God not like every day activities! Gather the people. Call a spontaneous fast. Bring together the all the people that are difficult to gather. Even stop the weddings. It’s time to respond to the Lord.”
Friends, this is the day we’re in. We are in a crisis. We cannot only respond like the rest of the world. We can’t only be concerned with keeping people in the church entertained and engaged and giving. It’s time for the church to respond with the strategy of the Lord in this hour.
We’ll talk a little bit more about what I think that looks like soon.
I was at one of our house churches the other day talking to an eleven year old who asked some great questions. We were talking about the places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to “go and buy gold refined by fire,” and his story where he tells us to “go and buy oil.” All of these are places that tell us go and develop a close relationship with Christ.
He was having a hard time understanding those concepts, so I told him this story:
“Imagine that your dad made you a deal. Every time you brought your dad a dime, your dad responded by giving you $20.00. Would you take your dad up on that deal?”
He shook his head yes.
“I bet you’d do it a lot, wouldn’t you?
He shook his head again.
“I bet you would. You’d do it until you became rich. Well that’s what its like with Jesus. We go and bring our small hearts to Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to us. We call this prayer. He responds by showing up and showing himself to us in ways that grow our hearts and make us wealthy in God, because that is real wealth — knowing God.”
Dallas Willard famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” We have to make the effort to show up and pray. We have to show up to encounter him. We bring our dime. When we do, God takes our ten cent prayers and brings $20 encounters and $20 answers to the things we ask for. This is grace.
This morning I was thinking of the conversation again. I realized that I hadn’t told my young friend the whole story. See, I had told the story to him as if the first dime he brings to his dad is his. The reality is one we forget often — the first dime he gave his dad is a dime his dad gave him first. We are able to bring our hearts in prayer to meet with God because he gave us the initial desire to do so. It was him, putting in us a desire to be close to him to begin with, that allows us to begin to want to pray. You may even be feeling the tug right now to spend time with Jesus. This is also grace.
So let’s bring our dimes and trade them in. The little we bring will be transformed into so much more. Let’s also not forget who gave us the dime in the first place.
At the heart of Christianity is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that everyone who becomes a Christian has to have an experience like Paul did on the road to Damascus, but it means that everyone who is truly born again will encounter Jesus by His Spirit. Often that begins by faith, accepting the truth of the Gospel and the work of Jesus on the cross and then as we grow in faith we learn to interact with Jesus as a living being as we grow up in Him. But make no mistake, every believer (whether they feel it or not) encounters Jesus.
When I first became part of the organic church movement, there was a lot of talk about encountering Jesus. Many of those I learned from had taught us how to encounter Jesus by waiting on the Lord in silence and prayer. As I’ve been exposed to more and more parts of the house church movement, however, I’ve noticed varying degrees of emphasis on encountering Jesus in prayer, usually less. To some degree I’m sure this has to do with some who have tried to call the church away from religious prayer routines.
While I applaud leaving behind dead religious traditions, I’m often saddened by the hardness towards people who try to encounter Jesus within the organic church/house church movement. Our lives were never designed to be lived outside of a regular encounter with Jesus, so while we need to leave behind the trappings of religion that really were more like hiding than meeting Jesus, we also must position our hearts to regularly encounter Christ. Jesus tells us to do this individually in secret prayer routines where we meet the Father (see Mathew 6:5-6).
The life of the body, however, is not just the coming together of the individual lives of the believers that make it up. Christians have always believed that because of the blood of Christ they have had direct access to God themselves, personally (Hebrews 4:15-16), but they’ve also always believed that something different happens when believers come together and pray. Jesus said that He would show up in a different, more significant way when two or three believers gather together and pray. Part of the promise of Him showing up when those two or three gathering and agreeing in prayer is that He will answer their request (Matthew 18:19-20).
So this encountering of Jesus through prayer, this agreeing together, this listening and obeying Christ, must be done both individually and corporately. If we try and obey the commands of Jesus without it, we will find ourselves continually wearied and unequipped both individually and corporately, because we were never designed to live the life of Christ outside of being fueled by encounter with Him. While this must happen individually, it must certainly happen corporately. If we don’t teach our churches how to pray, we stop successive generations of disciples from learning how to pray together (we don’t pass it on) and we lose the promise Jesus gives us when we agree together on anything.
Friends, our brothers and sisters from the house church planting movements around the world almost unanimously agree that movements do not start without a groundswell of prayer. This may begin with one person, but it culminates with many, many people praying for God’s Kingdom to come to their neighborhood, city, and region. When they gather and pray in a significant way, God answers. These are the people that have put their dependency on God answering their prayers and because of that they see people healed, raised from the dead, and most importantly lives transformed by the Gospel. I believe we have much to learn from these brothers and sisters, not the least of which is their dependence on God answering their prayers.
Friends, we serve a God who desires to encounter us. He will do this both individually and corporately, but He will encounter us differently with a group than He does when we are all alone. So let’s not stop gathering together with other brothers and sisters to pray, as some are in the habit of doing, but let’s begin to gather to ask Jesus for the harvest that He desires to bring in.
He will respond.
Welcome to Inspiration Avenue!
My conviction is that our generation is over-taught and under-inspired, so every week I cultivate some of the most inspiring content I can find on the internet and bring it to you. I hope you are inspired to live fully submitted to Christ and pursuing everything He purchased for you on the Cross.
Maybe this goes without saying, but I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything I post here. In fact, I expect some of the things I post will rattle your theological cages. My suggestion? Be inspired by people who aren’t perfect. Realize you won’t agree with everything I share here. Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.
So, without further ado, here are three sources of inspiration for the week:
Methods and Tools vs. Prayer and Obedience: Roger Thorman writes about his journey into simple, organic house churches on his blog, SimpleChurchJournal. This post hammers at the thought that all of our disciple making methods and strategies are useless outside of a close walk with the Lord. This is so crucial, because often we get so caught up in the methods that a relationship with Christ can get left behind.
The Phenomenonal Growth of the Salvation Army: Lex Loizides is a church historian of the revivalist variety. He spends his time at his blog Church History Review telling the stories of revivals of the past. Currently Lex is telling the story of the Salvation Army. While the whole story is powerful, I was particularly touched by the picture here of William Booth as an old man, completely eclipsed by the men and women he had raised up into ministry from the ranks of the poor and disenfranchised. May God help us all to raise up disciples that touch the nations of the Earth like He did with William and Catherine Booth.
David Ravenhill: David Ravenhill is the son of famed preacher and revivalist Leonard Ravenhill. Leonard Ravenhill was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s for calling the church away from being like the world. I recently came across a quote of David, echoing his father in many ways: “this tidal wave of deception [. . .] seeks to make self the ultimate object of our worship while reducing God to being our ultimate personal trainer. In recent years, the words “your destiny” have been preached, prophesied, and promoted throughout the Body of Christ, to the point where self has become the center and focal point of life rather than Christ and His Kingdom.” Let’s all purpose to serve Jesus and not continue to ask Jesus to serve us.
Yesterday I shared some thoughts about how “not being fed spiritually” isn’t why we participate in a church. My primary argument (in case you hate clicking links) is that we weren’t primarily designed be fed by another person, but by the Lord Himself. But I realize that because of the state of the church today, that could leave many of you asking, “How do I do that?”
Because of that, I want to look at four different ways the Bible encourages us to fuel our spiritual man. God actually has ways for you to feed your heart and soul yourself as you encounter Him. My encouragement to you is to look at the four different ways listed below and pick one (or more) that you aren’t doing, but to also do it daily for ninety days before you give up on it. There are many, many days where the disciplines I practice don’t feel like they are accomplishing anything. But the overall effect of doing them consistently over the years has had a tremendous impact on my life.
So, to feed your spiritual man, you should try the following:
- Pray. I know what you’re thinking. You pray. But I’m not talking about the short “Help me, God,” sort of prayers we pray throughout hectic days. I’m talking about a kind of prayer where your mind is focused, your heart is attentive, and you and the Father are dialoguing back and forth. Part of the problem we experience with prayer is much of the church has taught us not to expect God to talk back to us. But prayer is a communion of our spirit with God’s Holy Spirit where real relationship happens. If you have problems praying I have a few suggestions: 1) Get alone. 2) Leave behind all of your electronic devices. 3) Bring a pen and some paper. Write your part of the conversation out on paper and then wait. And as God brings truth to your spirit or brings up a Bible verse, or shows you a picture write those things down. Over time as you practice this, you’ll begin to get good at hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit as you wait for Him.
- Read the Bible. Again, this can seem so elementary, but we so don’t do the simple things and it hurts us. Can we put away our books, our blogs (even this one?), our Christian programs, and truly begin to understand what God is saying? Jesus (and Moses) said “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4). We have to get to our place in our walk where we understand we are dependent on God’s word to feed our spirit on a daily basis. This encounter with the word has to go beyond just dull, repetitive reading, though, to ushering us into an encounter with Jesus (John 5:39). In our network, I encourage believers to get in groups of two or three and read 20 to 30 chapters of the Bible in context every week. Consuming a large amount of Scripture in context has helped us grow in understanding of God’s will for our lives. Not only that, but we’ve met God in the process.
- Do the will of the Father. “I have a kind of food you know nothing about…My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work,” (John 4:32-34). Jesus, as a human being, had learned to become dependent, not on natural food, but a spiritual food that came from the Father. This wasn’t just because Jesus was God. Jesus had to lay aside His divine nature and become like us in all things (Philippians 2:6-8). So His entire life was an example of how redeemed humanity can live in relationship to the Father. Friends, this means you can be fed spiritually when you participate in God’s will! That can be as simple as encouraging someone or responding to a truth from the Bible or as unique as Jesus prophesying to the Samaritan woman about her various scandals and leading her to repentance. Regardless, every time we do God’s will, it strengthens who we are on the inside. Many of my friends who understand spiritual disciplines miss this reality because it can’t be done alone in a closet. But some of my most spiritually dynamic mentors and friends are people who were people who received from God and obeyed when He asked them to act. Don’t miss this powerful step!
- Pray in the Spirit. Paul had a very particular type of prayer that he stressed was important for building up our inner man. This was praying in tongues or praying in the Spirit and it was designed as form of communion between our spirit and God’s Spirit. When Paul talks about this type of prayer, he says that a believer “…will be speaking by the power of the Spirit…[and] is strengthened personally,” (1 Corinthians 14:2-4). And because of this, Paul says about himself “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you,” (1 Corinthians 14:18). I think many times, we under-emphasize the role this gift has in strengthening our spiritual lives. Much could be written about this gift, but let’s start here: If you have this ability, put it into practice daily. If you don’t have this gift, ask the Lord for it. He loves to give more of the Spirit to those who ask.
The Old Testament has a story that we can learn from in regard to these disciplines. During their time in the wilderness, God would rain down manna from heaven for the Israelites to eat and told them to gather what they needed for that day. If they tried to gather more than what they needed for that day, when they went to eat it the next day, what was left over had rotted and was covered in maggots. They couldn’t live off the previous day’s manna.
So too, we can’t live off of one good day with the Lord or three good days in a week, let alone one day a week when we gather as a church. Again, much of the church is weaker than it needs to be because they aren’t daily engaging the Lord in these ways.
My encouragement to you if you read yesterday’s post and didn’t know where to start is to pick one of these disciplines that you aren’t strong in and practice it for the next seven days. Take stock on what you’ve noticed as far as a change in your walk. I want you to spend 90 days trying a discipline, but even at one solid week, my guess is you will start to see a dynamic change in your walk with the Lord.
Remember, this is important. You were created for relationship with God. Don’t miss these avenues to encountering Him and growing by feeding yourself on God and His word.