We recently finished our 11th ReFRESH® Conference in the Smokies. For over a decade, we’ve held conferences in Albany, Pigeon Forge, Branson, and Richmond for the IMB stateside staff. We will be going to Boston/New England for our first conference there in September. By the end of the year, we will have hosted 30 of these conferences.
If it were not for the members of Sherwood Baptist Church having heart for revival and for pastors…if it were not for members who give up vacation days to travel, serve, and assist with the conferences, we couldn’t do this. If it were not for men with a heart for revival and awakening, there would be no conference. The various men God has used through these years have blessed and ministered to now over 1,000 pastors and countless numbers of laity.
Every man who speaks, comes with a unique giftedness, personality, and calling. Yet, when we are together, there is a seamless flow to all that happens. We don’t orchestrate it; God does it. We never know how many times we will speak, but every man is ready to speak or just to attend and pray for the meeting.
ReFRESH® is the closest thing to the Deeper Life Conferences I once attended with folks like Ron Dunn, Manley Beasley, Miss Bertha Smith, Jack Taylor, and others. We are not trying to recreate those events because they can’t be recreated. We are simply focused on the same things they were focused on: revival, the Spirit-filled life, awakening, and prayer.
Yet, having said all that, that’s not the explanation. There is no explanation for this conference. We do it on a shoestring budget. We keep it small to have greater impact and personal time with the pastors, staff, and lay leaders who attend. We give away nearly $1,000 in free resources at every conference. We scholarship pastors who can’t afford to attend. Looking at it on paper, it’s not practical, financially successful, or even well-known. Looking at it on paper, we should have stopped doing it a long time ago.
Nonetheless, there is one thing constant with all the conferences we’ve done – God has been the only explanation. There is no way to describe what God has done in the hearts of people. We’ve seen pastors who were ready to leave the ministry, renew their commitment to stay in the battle. We’ve watched men and women beaten up and scarred by carnal people have the joy of their calling restored. We’ve seen tears at the altar, joy in their faces, and restoration in their souls. Only God can do this. Only God has the power to change lives. No preacher, no conference, no sermon can bring revival or bring a blessing. That is all birthed in the Spirit of God by the power of God for the glory of God.
The most recent conference reminded me that God is in charge. We shuffled the order, changed speakers at the last minute, and we never missed a beat. God reminded us that when we are available, He is able. When we are surrendered, He will take over. When His people seek Him, He will be found.
I’m praying for the day when ReFRESH® is unnecessary. If we see a weeping, sweeping revival in our land, we won’t need this kind of conference. Until that day, I want to keep my hands to the plow. I want to keep asking God to rend the heavens and come down. I am believing God for another great move of His Spirit across this land. I am blessed to know so many others in various ministries and across denominational lines who are like-minded.
May God send an unexplainable refreshing to you and your ministry today.
I hate time change Sunday. Even when I gain an extra hour of sleep, I hate the day. First of all, why on Sunday? Why make us lose an hour before worship? Why not Monday when everyone has to get up anyway? Why not Saturday, when we have a day to adjust? Better yet, why not just keep the savings time year round? Most of us never know what time it is anyway.
Come to think of it, these days remind me of many believers. I love to meet a new believer before he starts meeting a lot of religious people. Religious people can kill enthusiasm in a nanosecond. Normal, New Testament expressions of faith seem so odd that the engaged and energized believer has to backslide to have fellowship with half the church.
IT’S TIME TO SPRING FORWARD
Churches need to spring forward. They need to get out of the rut of manmade traditions that have no power. They should spring forward and clean out the closets, throw away the junk and fine tune the ministry. I’ve been in enough churches to think about becoming the host of a new reality TV show, Church Hoarders – digging through old hymnals, Sunday School quarterlies, choral selections, and offering envelopes.
Two years ago we tore down two old one-story buildings and gutted two others to build and remodel for current needs. When we were cleaning out the attic, it looked like an episode of Hoarders. In that attic was every old offering envelope dating back four decades. My only question was WHY?
Back in the 1990s I went around the Sunday School classes on a Friday afternoon and just started throwing things away. I found Sunday School quarterlies that dated back 15-20 years stuck in the piano benches. (Now there’s a whole other issue – out of tune pianos in rooms where we only know how to play and sing four different hymns!)
The average church in America is plateaued or dying. Why? They forgot to spring forward. My home church is on life support. A once strong church now has 13 people, all in their 90s. Meanwhile there are thousands of lost children, young people, and families within that community. Someone forgot to spring forward.
To spring forward also means to get out of the rut of the old way of doing church. Business meetings should be outlawed. Get a good finance committee and trust the leadership. Let’s move on people.
To spring forward means you’ve got to admit that the people you are trying to reach aren’t going to buy the KJV. They like reading The Message, ESV, NIV, or some other translation. Although I preach from the NASB, I often quote and refer to these newer translations because I know they are familiar to people. While the world is going to hell and the church is by and large biblically ignorant, why are we arguing over translations? Spring forward. Get a Bible and read it and quit dying on hills already covered with too many bodies.
THE CHURCH NEEDS TO FALL BACK
We need to fall back in love with Jesus. We love our events, our age group ministries, our seats, our songs…but do we love Jesus first and foremost?
We need to fall back and examine why some fences were built? Why do we do what we do? We need to discover or re-discover our heritage and church history. Most folks have no clue why we do what we do. We need to take time to explain the importance of the Lord’s Supper. We need to take the time to explain why baptism matters.
Never move a fence until you find out why it was put there. We have biblical boundaries that are being violated for the sake of numbers and crowds. We want people to be comfortable; God wants them to be holy. We want folks to be happy; God wants them to be reconciled to Him. We can’t move forward if we are soft on sin, unclear about the Bible, or indifferent to lifestyles.
We need to fall back in worship. No, I don’t mean return to the good old days when we had hymnals. I mean we need to quit trying to be trendy. Every artist today seems to write songs that sound the same, feel the same, just with a few word changes. You can anticipate the key change. You can almost nail the moment when everyone is going to raise their hands. It’s predictable which means it’s not spontaneous. It’s dangerously close to being “watch us perform and you act on cue” rather than “worship with us.”
Again, I love the new music. I love what we do at Sherwood. I’m grateful for the influence of Contemporary Christian Music, but I do miss the days of distinctive sounds, songs, and artists. While the music is God-honoring (whether we are talking about hymns or choruses), if we aren’t careful we will become the bland leading the bland.
We need to fall back into expounding the Word of God. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” I grew up on topical preaching. I have to ask myself when I follow certain podcasts, “How many sermons can you preach on marriage, sex, and the family?” Really? You’re that good? We’ve gotten to the point where we know more about relationships than God does. Where’s the sermon on singleness? Being adopted? Growing up in a blended home? We’ve painted our marriage series to be like “Little House on the Freeway” and forgotten that every family has unique issues. The only answers for life are found in the context of taking people back to Jesus.
When was the last time you heard a pastor preach through a book? I know that people have short attention spans. They are also biblically illiterate. They aren’t going to get smarter by having the preacher dumb down the Word of God. Teach them to have an appetite for the Word. Give them the meat, not just the milk. Show them how to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Stretch them out of their comfort zone.
We need to fall back to the basics. Our people, by and large, don’t know how to pray, have a quiet time, memorize Scripture, quote the 10 commandments, name the 12 Apostles, share their faith, or understand tithing. We need to fall back or we are going to produce a bloated, overweight, under-nourished, unhealthy version of Christianity that looks nothing like the New Testament picture of a believer. They’ll be fat and happy, but they won’t be difference makers, disciple makers, or dedicated followers of the living Lord.
At Sherwood, we are currently walking through great truths about the Holy Spirit and how we can cooperate with Him as He operates in our lives. All that the Lord Jesus had been to His disciples while walking this earth, the Holy Spirit has become as our comforter.
There is a difference. Jesus was with them physically; the Spirit abides in us. He is empowering us, equipping us, convicting us, and drawing us to a more intimate relationship with Christ.
All that Jesus did for the disciples, the Spirit would continue to do. The ascended Lord is our Advocate. The indwelling Holy Spirit is our paraclete, our helper. There is harmony here. There is unity here. There is a singleness of purpose in this.
Just as Jesus talked, guided, and strengthened the disciples, the Holy Spirit continues to do this and even more. Our Lord, as He walked this earth, was limited by time and space. If He was in one place, He couldn’t be somewhere else. The Holy Spirit in us is in all places at all times. He is not limited by time and space. He indwells believers everywhere. His work in us is to make Christ as real to us as if Jesus were actually walking among us. The Spirit fills the gap between the open grave and the exalted throne.
Think about it. By His death and resurrection, Jesus meets every need of the sinner for salvation. The Holy Spirit is given to meet every need in the life of the believer. If we could just embrace that truth, it would revolutionize our lives. We have the Spirit indwelling and empowering us. That’s incredible news. It’s not wishful thinking, it’s a living truth!
Everywhere I turn, people are falling. Falling into sin or falling into doctrinal error. Some are falling into mediocrity as acceptable. You don’t need me to report specifics to you, we all have our stories.
Recently, I saw a story by my friend Todd Starnes on “The last church in Churchville.” It’s a small town in Iowa with about a dozen homes and a church. There is no stoplight, but they do have two stop signs. This struggling town use to be thriving and full of life during the glory days when the Great Western Railroad ran through the town. Today the stockyard is empty and their grocery store is boarded up.
The Catholics built a church in the town, Assumption Parish. For the most part it was a simple country church. Today the Lutheran church is closed down and now the Assumption Parish will close its doors. The Bishop from Des Moines told the church they weren’t “viable.” This past Sunday was their last Sunday, as the Bishop decided they needed to close the doors. It’s a sad ending for a church that has lasted for generations.
Now the question comes, should your doors be open or should someone from “headquarters” advise that your day is over? What I like about being Baptist is we don’t have bishops overseeing our churches and telling us what to do. What I don’t like is we’ve got a lot of dead, inefficient, carnal, dying churches that need someone to tell them it’s time to close up shop.
If a church is not fulfilling the Great Commission, why does it exist? If a church is not reaching the community, does it really need to take up real estate? It’s a valid question. It’s not an easy answer.
In my hometown, my home church is barely surviving. A once great church that ran over 600 and had an auditorium that could seat 1,000 now could fit inside a medium-sized Sunday School classroom. The last time I spoke there, my kids were the only kids in the whole church. It was dead then, and it’s really dead now. They just don’t know it yet. They are on the most highly traveled road in my hometown, and they’ve forgotten their purpose.
Far too many churches in America are dead or dying. They are plateaued, status quo, or resistant to change. They are primarily made up of senior adults holding the fort. The only decision left to make is who will put the “For Sale” sign in the front yard and lock the doors for the last time.
Why is this happening? We can blame it on shifting populations, socio-economics, dying communities, and a dozen other factors that all may have some merit. But the truth of the matter is these churches die because they’ve lost their vision and their passion. The vision of the founders has not been embraced, spread, and supported.
Listen, I’m writing as a pastor who lives in a dying city. We are the fourth poorest city in America. We have 32 gangs. Yet, the church I’m privileged to serve has just completed Phase 1 of a building project involving two new three-story buildings with all new Bible study space, a two-story indoor playground, a new outdoor playground, a coffee shop and bookstore, and a 450-seat youth worship space and café. Why? It doesn’t make sense…UNLESS you read the Bible and believe the promises of God.
We can’t say we believe the Bible and sit silently watching a community race towards hell. We had to act. Not for us, but for generations to come. The members of this community need a vibrant, alive church.
To be honest, it would have been easier for me to ride out the next ten years and not build the buildings. It might have been the safe thing, but it would have been the WRONG thing. I couldn’t look at the lostness of this city and say, “I’ll let the next guy worry about this.” I couldn’t face this congregation and say, “We’ll let someone else do this.” We had to act. There was a need to meet, and we were going to meet it.
The day a church quits caring about the next generation, her days are numbered. The day a church stops reaching out, the doors will eventually close. The day people are content with doing as little as possible, they stop being the people of God and become the people of convenience.
Every community in America is filled with lost people. Every town, parish, city, and community is immersed in lostness. The question is, are we going to sit around in our comfortable pews and sing, “We are one in the Spirit,” or are we going to get out of the pews and by the power of the Spirit invite people to a relationship with the living Lord?
The choice is yours and mine. We can either preside over a slow, painful death followed by a funeral or we can prepare people to see with eyes of hope and faith. As for me, I’m believing God for greater days to come. I will not rest on the past. I will not ignore the issues of the present. I will not spend my days on this earth making excuses. I will, by the grace of God, do all that is within me—by the power of the Holy Spirit and on the authority of the Word of God—to leave the doors open so that “whosoever will” may come.
(Read Part 1 here.)
No matter what attire you wear to church—t-shirts, jeans, dresses, or neckties—veils are always in style. In fact, we can wear them so long that we don’t know where the hypocrisy ends and the authenticity begins. Our pretense is justified and perpetuated. Here are some of the most common veils I’ve seen. read more…