Had an invite to a local church gathering recently, they called it the Encouraging Christian Church Northumberland or ECG for short.  The main speaker was Jeff Lucas.  There were also a few works shops in between the main service as well which people could put their names to. 

2 CH 32 : 7-8  Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that [is] with him: for [there be] more with us than with him: With him [is] an arm of flesh; but with us [is] the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah

I was sitting near the front and what I saw deeply disturbed me, which further impressed upon me that something was amiss.  The main female singer was wearing such tight legging that little was left to the imagination, further she had such a loose blouse that you could see her bra.  I had to wonder if this was the latest attire which worship leaders were supposed to wear.   Now there was no opening prayer but a quick launch into a series of well-known songs.  In themselves they were fine and yet I could still see something was amiss.  There was something that should have been there, but was sadly missing.  I was unmoved by their approach and still unmoved as they tried to encourage the congregation in worship.  I would suggest that probably the majority plunged into the worship with no regard for what was happening.  I suspect they did not see what I saw. Now don’t get me wrong I love worship.  Give me a good worship song and I am gone.  I love and have a great passion for worship.  But here there was something missing,

THE ARM OF THE FLESH

What I saw was a form of godliness but a clear lacking of power.  Professionalism without reality,  substance without depth.

The world uses techniques all the time, in TV commercials, films and dramas.  They serve to encourage the hearers to become involved in what is happening on the screen. It is not just what you see, but also what you hear.  Things are done so that you will buy into the product in question.  They have been so skilfully used that we often don’t even realise it.  Unlike the world that openly admits to using such techniques the church does not.  In fact I am not even sure they ever realise they are doing it.  It is all done to encourage an emotional response from the hearers.  The Bible however would call these techniques the arm of the flesh.

Now let’s continue with what took place in the conference.

Jeff Lucas came on afterwards.  Now Jeff is obviously an accomplished speaker and was involved in Spring Harvest for many years.  Probably travelled to more places than I have had hot dinners.  His style of preaching was humorous and quite witty.  His jokes had everyone rolling with laughter.  At times I felt he bordered on being irreverent but that’s my personal quirk.  He was honest on many issues, and probably more so than many I have heard.  His theme was running the Christian race.  Whilst I have no doubt that many went away blessed, I have to say I was disappointed.  Despite a very good message he decides to fall back on the arm of the flesh.  Which personally betrayed his entire message?  He invited a piano player to help him finish his message.   There was simply no need for him to do this as his message was good enough to stand on its own.  The use of the piano was to invoke an emotional response from his hearers.  His message said one thing, the music said another.  The world uses it, but why should we?  It simply stated that what he said was simply not good enough and needed an extra something to influence people and get them to buy into his message  Now this was not the first time this technique was used in this conference.  .

On the second day the worship band had everyone watch a short film about poverty and then had people suddenly start getting into groups to pray.  Again what I saw disturbed me for as people were praying the group were quietly playing.  Again the arm of the flesh was being used for an emotional response to encourage people to pray.    For the majority they simply did not see the obvious.  But when you are aware of the techniques it does change ones perspective on things.  The world hates silence and the church has followed. 

I cannot tell you how long ago this started but we may be talking about some years ago.  When people were called to come forward to find Jesus in what has since been knows as the classic ALTER CALL.  The use of a musician to play as the altar call is given has become a standard approach in almost all conventions.  It is done for no other reason than to help the process along, and to encourage an emotional response. 

In fact in one work shop a serving British officer gave his testimony and was pleasantly like a breath of fresh air.  On the whole there were no bands behind him trying to whip up an emotional response.  His message stood on its own two legs.

So what was missing?

When men rely on the arm of the flesh, don’t expect God to show up.  Why should he? Everything was professionally done.  But when we become so professional the danger is that God lands up being part of that professional-ism.  He gets slotted in there along with the filming the catering and the in between work groups.  The reality of the Awe that we should have for God somehow gets missed.  When a worship leader can stand up dressed with something that revealed all and left little to the imagination.  There is no conviction or reality that we have come before a holy and awesome God.   When you know the genuine the fake is just not the same.  God is not someone’s fool.  He is not obliged to bless when hearts are not right.  What I saw was more akin to a disco night, a good karaoke but the depth that should have been there was not.

I have no doubt that the credits for this convention will read that many were blessed and encouraged.  The jokes had people laughing.  People will no doubt ascribe to various missions, books were advertised and sold.  Pilates If you fancy an hour of relaxing and stretching under the supervision of qualified instructor had people feeling healthier and the main group singer had his bands Tee shirts on sale. All in all a very profitable time for all.

The caterers did their job very well.  Everyone went home happy.  But were lives really really changed?

 The darkness is slowly drawing across this nation.   In a recent report a doctor Dr David Drew was sacked for simply sending a text message which included a prayer to his fellow workers.  It went to a tribunal for unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal ruled that there was “no need” for religious references to be made at work. For that he lost his case.

 Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, commented:

 “This is like the shutting down of identity. This approach to Christians is like forcing them to deny their identity – being Christian isn’t something which you take off when you go to work.

To say that it is not appropriate to say that you are a Christian at work is to totally misunderstand our history, our heritage, freedom under the law, freedom of religion, it is deeply illiberal, it is wrong.” ( source from The Telegraph and the Daily Mail)

 For too long we have put up with the trivial, and the superficial.  We need the reality of God.  We need the substance and meat of the word.  We need the holy conviction of God to come upon those who call themselves his people.  We need a reality check, before the world does it for us.  There is awesomeness in being in the presence of God, where we almost shudder to even speak out Gods name, lest unclean lips demean it.  Where we come into a realisation that God is the one we are standing before. 

Heb 13: 10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.

The Levite priests were allowed to eat from what was sacrificed on the altar as Gods provision to them.  For the Christian however we too have an alter, the provision is much greater than the meat Levite priest ate from.   We draw upon a supply that is eternal, its depths cannot be fathomed and its width cannot be measured

We are called to enter into the very presence of God.  When you have entered you can never just walk away the same as you came in.  When men did they trembled with a holy fear.  Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips.  Jeff Lucas talked about leaving behind the shame of the past.  In that he was right.  But we run race because the runner cannot be happy until he pushes past the tape that says he has won his race and finished his course.  The Christian cannot be content until the race is won.  This life will always serve to some degree a sense that we are not settled.  We will be uncomfortable and desire more anything to be clothed in that victory that God promises.   This life will always serve to some extent as a disappointment because we have not yet arrived.

As we are called into the very presence of God, there is a glorious liberating and transforming experience.  The realisation that you have entered into the genuine and anything less just will not do.  God is a transforming God and he will not have any equals.  He is a convicting God who will challenge you to your core.  He needs no superficial technique, no fleshy technique to entertain the flesh, and no emotional stimuli to keep people hyped.  God is a jealous God and we must put away our toys and trinkets and turn and give him the true glory which belongs to him.  If a service does not convict and move us to holiness and if we are not challenged by being in his presence we might as well pack up and go home.  TV will no doubt give you the same thrill.

I did not quite leave the same way as I came in.  I went out with the greater realisation that I would rather have the genuine than some karaoke down at my local.  Give me God in all his glory.  Convict me, move upon me.  Cleanse me, move me to my knees, but give me God.   When you have drunk at living waters, anything else is just a cesspool.  When you have glimpsed God is his majesty your heart is moved in utter wonder, and words are simply no longer adequate to express what you see.

It is not in the surface shivers and shakers but in something deeper that touches your very conscience and spirit.  That will fill you with a hunger for God that cannot quite be postulated in mere words.  God is real and he will make himself known to those who desire him.  Until we are changed inside we will never change the outside world.

 

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