"After they preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.' When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Acts 14:21-24
Wedged in between the itinerary and organization of the early church is a quote that is never found on a church brochure or Hobby Lobby throw pillow. Did you see it?
"THROUGH MANY TRIBULATIONS WE MUST ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
Now that is not surprising to anyone except American Christians. Somehow, the popularity of The Rapture has convinced the contemporary American Christian that the Highway to Heaven is paved with gold and lined with thornless rose bushes. The rest stops are clean and plentiful, the drive thru windows are efficient and cheap, and as soon as you say a prayer of salvation, the coast is clear and Tribulation free. Read your Bible.
Note to self: THROUGH MANY TRIBULATIONS WE MUST ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
WOW! Who knew? How in the world did the early church preachers gather a crowd of seekers with that on their brochure, and with a welcome mat that said, "Martyrs Welcome" They didn't even serve Starbucks coffee.
What was the difference? They focused on the good news of the gospel, "strengthening the souls of disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith." They shared a letter or two, but didn't hire a publicist to recommend to their followers their latest book. Instead hey "commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed."
Their word of counsel to their followers was not filled with platitudes or panaceas. In essence they told them, "This is going to hurt, and it is going to take a while." The remarkable result? The church exploded in growth.
When people are desperate for relief, the truth is liberating. Truth is all that matters to people who have been lied to all their lives. When in doubt, tell the truth. There is more than one tribulation. Just ask the Christians in China, Pakistan, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Cuba. The list is actually much longer. But I digress.
The Roman world was bankrupt morally and spiritually, and on the brink of financial collapse. The Romans had paraded their pantheon of gods before their own people, but no one really believed in them any more. They forced their governmental system on conquered nations, and devoured the people and their own citizens with bone-crushing taxation. People were forced to support mobs of unemployed people, and were helpless to stop the system that poured their hard earned resources into the moral sewer called Rome.
Sound familiar? History repeats itself, if the lessons it teaches are ignored. Get ready for history class. America is going to have to stay after school for sleeping through the last 50 years.
God's provision for a sleeping church is a Great Awakening. This kind of Spiritual Awakening is only provided in response to a desperate praying person, who sets the bar for praying people, who then turn their purpose for gathering together into praying churches.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a seasoned word-smith to see the correlation between tribulation and trouble. The simple truth is this. The American form of Christianity is in trouble. My own brand of expression of Christianity, Southern Baptists, have bragged for decades that they are the largest non-Catholic denomination in America.
Note to self: With bragging rights comes a target on your back. Duck Dynasty indeed. Word for the day! DUCK!
For the past few years, courageous leaders of our convention have tried to sound a warning that all is not well. Convention presidents, pastors and statisticians have pointed out the decline in baptisms and loss of enthusiasm for the gospel in established churches. Their answer? Start new churches. Why? It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead. Good to know.
Still. Is there no hope for an Awakening, a raising of the dead? Jesus said, "I AM THE RESURRECTION." He did not say, "I WAS." The call to discipleship includes a mandate to face tribulation with a heart filled with encouragement and strength that comes from being filled with the Holy Spirit. It has always been so. It should not be a surprise now.
Pray for the next Great Awakening to revive, instill new life, in the existing church. Pray for the Spirit of God to breathe new life into people who have grown weary in well-doing, or have lost hope in their Savior, while serving a system. Pray for the movement of God's Spirit to energize an empty people who have come to the end of themselves, and are desperate for His Way, His Truth, and His Life. JESUS!
You may feel alone. You are not. A Great Awakening is great because it is greater than the sum of the parts. I was having lunch with my Father, Don Miller this week. At 91 years of age his memory is fading, but he said, "I draw comfort from the words of man who spoke them into me years ago. I don't recall who it was who said them, but they comfort me nonetheless. He said, 'God and I make a majority.' " Thanks Dad. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!