John Markum

Good Theology isn’t Enough

Hear me out… I’m not a heretic, I swear. Strong, Bible-based theology is a critical component to how we walk with Christ. I’d even argue that it’s the first and most important job of Pastors – to ensure the doctrinal integrity within the church. With that said, the problem with our systematic theology is that ultimately it’s a man-made categorization and classification of Biblical truth: We make absolute truth statements summarizing our understanding of Biblical teachings – but these are our statements, uninspired by God, and therefore possessing room for the possibility of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or error. For example…

Consider the crowds and the Pharisees who dismissed Jesus as not being the Messiah because they read in Isaiah that we wouldn’t know the origins of the Messiah, only that He would come from Bethlehem. And in John 7, the crowds say in verse 27, “However, we know where this man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.” and then later in the same scenario, “Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” But others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not coming from Galilee, is He? Has the Scripture not said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So a dissension occurred in the crowd because of Him.” (v. 41-43).

To summarize… Some didn’t accept Jesus as the Christ, because they “knew” Jesus was from Nazareth not Bethlehem like the prophets had told them, and they had a somewhat obscure verse that convinced them they wouldn’t know where the Messiah had come from…

Except they didn’t know. Jesus actually was born in Bethlehem as the prophets foretold, and left for Nazareth, likely out of Egypt as a young boy until He began His public ministry. The irony, is that the crowd’s misinterpretation of the prophets resulted in them fulfilling the very prophecies they were quoting – they really didn’t know where He came from! They had excellent theology, poor execution. They needed solid orthodoxy (“pure doctrine”) and orthopraxy (“pure practices”).

Enter Asbury University of Wilmore, KY who has shared reports, videos, and now thousands of eye witnesses claiming a nearly two-week, 24-hour, nonstop revival has been building in momentum. The “Asbury Revival” in turn has inspired or influenced a series of other “revivals” around the nation including reports from Cedarville University and even more secular schools like Yale. With the arguably sensational reports of revival, repentance, salvations, and constant praise that almost seems akin to something you’d read out of Acts 2 with the Day of Pentecost, there’s been no shortage of internet preachers and Christians ready to accuse this revival of nothing but nonsense and attention seeking. Except the college has consistently been turning down several news stations offering to give their college and this revival national coverage.

I’m not writing today to call this (or other) revivals authentic, nor to label them as just emotional hype. But what I am writing to say, is that when God shows up, it defies our explanations. The best religious minds of Jesus’ day knew the Old Testament and the prophecies of the Messiah by heart, many of them memorizing the largest portions of the Torah and Isaiah. And yet they looked the incarnate God of the Universe straight in the eye – the very One they longed for and prayed for – and said, “Nah. Can’t be Him.”

It is inadequate to have strong doctrine, we must also have a strong relationship with the actual Living God of our theology. Here are a few thoughts I have for the Asbury Revival and the other similar occurrences we see around our nation right now:

  • I pray to God that it is real and sincere! I’ve been asking for revival among this generation before they even had labels like Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and so on. Our nation needs revival, and all of us who believe in Jesus know it.
  • God doesn’t operate on any of our agendas! What would real revival in our nation look like anyway? Do you really think Jesus wouldn’t shake the cart of our carefully formed religious systems like He did in the first century? Let’s hold our ideas of revival with very open hands…
  • Apply the Gamaliel Test. When the church was born in the book of Acts, the Sanhedrin turned to one of their oldest and wisest teachers, Gamaliel (who actually trained the Apostle Paul). Gamaliel’s advice was simple: Watch and see, Trust in God’s sovereignty, Stand on God’s side. He cautioned that if the early church was just a man-made effort it would come to nothing anyway, and they didn’t need to worry… but if it actually was from God, be careful that they didn’t end of fighting against God Himself. The Sanhedrin basically said, “Good idea!” and then immediately fought against the move of God anyway.
  • You can’t conjure a move of God. All we can do, is position ourselves to be receptive when God does show up. Authentic or not, there will likely be many who want to imitate what’s happening at Asbury, and for the most part, I want to say I hope it happens. But revival won’t happen because you planned it, but because you prayed for it.

Let’s not allow our pre-conceived ideas of how God “has to” bring revival get in the way of Him actually bringing revival on His terms. I believe we are the greatest threat to God not bringing revival in the first place. We have to come to God like Jesus in the garden and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” We must be sure that we leave plenty of room in our theology for God to still show up and destroy our expectations. Doctrine is important… but not more important than God Himself. Good theological statements are pinpoint specific where they should, and broad where they cannot be. But God Himself is infinite, so let’s be careful to not put Him in a box of our theological preferences. And let’s pray for the real God to bring real revival – even if it means we have to adjust our expectations.

Pastor John

Among the things that make me take notice, I also love that at the Asbury Revival there appears to be none of the following:

  • Professional sound/lighting
  • Nothing for purchase
  • Nothing to autograph
  • Zero Christian “celebrities”, at least none getting any attention.

Just a bunch of average, unknown, amateur young people. Leading a revival. “Smells” legit to me, and I hope it is.

Five Confirmations of God’s Will

FIVE CONFIRM“They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says’–when the LORD has not spoken.”
Ezekiel 22:28

We all want to know God’s will: for our lives, vocations, families, hardships, and relationships. Aside from what the Bible directly tells us though, how do we know what God’s will is for us? I mean, the Bible didn’t tell me which college to go to, that my wife’s name would be “Tiffany”, what to name my kids, or that I was suppose to plant a new church in Silicon Valley. How do you know for sure when God is telling you to do something? How do I know? How does anyone know? How can you know?!

Here are five quick principles to seeking confirmation regarding something you feel God is leading you toward:

  1. Consistent with Scripture. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My word shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35) God doesn’t contradict what He’s already said. If what you’re considering to be “God’s will” goes against the grain with what God’s word clearly says, reconsider your direction. God’s will is always according to His word.
  2. Affirmation from others. God’s will for your life may not be popular with everyone you know. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying, is that God strategically places people in our life to help us see our blind-spots. If all the people you trust spiritually are shaking their heads, there’s a strong chance you’re attempting to move outside of God’s will. In Matthew 18, while talking about confronting a brother or sister in Christ regarding a sin issue, Jesus adds, “ that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” God confirms His will through fellow Christ-followers. If there is an obvious lack of such, reconsider your direction.
  3. Clear direction. Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” God makes His will clear to us as we submit to His leadership. If your way seems very murky and unclear, it’s likely that God is not in it. And please note – there’s a substantial difference between clear and easy. Just because you know what God wants you to do, does not mean it won’t be a massive uphill battle.
  4. Motives in check. You must constantly be asking yourself the hard questions of understanding your own biases. I can convince myself that God has spoken or willed something over my life, when in reality “the Lord has not spoken” for me to pursue that. Much of the trouble we get ourselves into is for this very reason: we want something so bad that we convince ourselves that God wants it for us. This is why #2 is so important. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked – who can understand it?” This is why you can’t “follow your heart”… you must learn to “lead your heart.” Acknowledge your biases. Do what God actually wants you to do, and one day your heart will thank you.
  5. Faith is relationship-oriented, not task-oriented. Don’t you just wish sometimes, that God would drop a scroll from the Heavens containing specific, personal instructions for our individual lives and scenarios? I know I have. So why doesn’t God do that? From what I read in Scripture, God is far more interested in us knowing HIM, than in knowing His will. Don’t get me wrong – He wants us to know His will. But His much greater desire is that we draw closer to Him… and we find His will in the process. God is far more interested in who we are becoming than in what we are doing.

I’m going to say with a high degree of confidence that if you have none or few of these going for you, you’re out of God’s will. Or if you’re trying to manipulate the reality that you’re missing these five things, you should probably focus on #4 and #5.

However, if all five seem to be coming together in almost supernatural ways – you’ll know. You begin to realize that God seems to almost be doing it without you! You still have a part to play, and there may be a great deal of work to do on your part. But you realize that His will is sitting right in front of you. That’s when you know you’re on to something! May you find the pure and perfect will of God in your life – and may you more so find and know Him more personally and intimately than ever.

Pastor John

Closer Than You Think

CloserI’ve done some thinking lately over Heaven as part of a new series that we’re doing at LifeCity Church. And in the process of going through Scripture, I’ve noticed a somewhat unrelated pattern about Jesus, and God in general.

Nearly every page of the Gospels is filled with language describing God in very practical, everyday ways.

Jesus specifically tells us that He is:

There are literally hundreds of other titles, and descriptors for Him, but one of my favorites encapsulates my sentiment toward all of them: Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23) – meaning, “God with us.” He really came here. To Earth. To humanity. To us… to me. To you.
The pattern I observe with the specific handful of names and title I shared, is that they are consistent, visible, every-day reminders that He is with us.

Every day when I drink my obligatory water intake for the day, I’m reminded that “He is with me.” And as I need literal water to survive physically, my soul demands the spiritual “living water” to sustain my inner self.
Every meal when I pray to thank Him for another chance to eat, I’m reminded that He is the “Bread of Life” and the true source of my strength and nourishment.
Every entrance, every exit, and every gate I walk through is a reminder that He is not only “The Door,” but “the way, the truth, and the life,” and my one hope of Heaven.
When the suns rays touch my skin, when every other foundation seems shaky but Him – wherever I go, and whatever I do – He. is. THERE!

I’m completely convinced that Jesus used such language to communicate to each of us that very message “I am with you. I will never leave you, or forsake you.” As close as the air in your lungs, and more certain than the rising sun, He’s much closer than we can imagine.

So may we stop looking to the clouds for the sure-to-return Savior, and get back to living in Him right here and now. May we fully experience the life He has for us, as we walk with Him in these “ordinary” moments. And may the day we actually see Him face-to-face feel more like a grand, long awaited reunion from a life of such experiences with Him, and less like a first time introduction.

Pastor John

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