March 27, 2015

A Night in the ER

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.  Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
(James 4:8-10)

Dr. Rick Flanders
“Revive” is a term used in the Old Testament to describe the work of God by which He brings His people back to the place spiritually where He can bless them.  The prayer, “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?” (Psalm 85:6—note also Habakkuk 3:2), assumes that the people of God have gone away from Him through disobedience and that they must be brought back.  Now the word “revive” is translated here and in thirteen other places in the Old Testament from the root word for “life,” and it means to bring back to life, or health.  The word “quicken” used eleven times in Psalm 119 is translated from the same Hebrew word and has the same meaning as “revive.” 

The word “revive” is often used in the emergency room at the hospital.  This fact is instructive because a revival among God’s people (believers in Jesus Christ now in the New Testament age, as the nation of Israel was in Old Testament times) is very much like the reviving of a patient in the “e. r.”  Somebody is brought in who needs help.  He can’t help himself.  He is not breathing right or at all, his color is bad, he is unable to walk and get around, he may be experiencing pain, and he is obviously not well.  So the attendants must revive him.  He must be brought back to normal health and vitality.  And there are two important factors in the revival process.


First, the medical technicians must check his “vital signs.”  These are measurements of bodily functions which can be compared with accepted standards of health.  They check heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and blood readings.  When these numbers are determined, the cause of the difficulties may be more evident as they are compared with numbers that science has determined represent the normal rate or level in a healthy body.  Before you can revive somebody, you must know what “health” looks like.  And health or illness is described in terms of the numbers generated by monitoring devices.   If the patient’s heart-rate is too high, work must be done to bring it down.  If his blood-pressure is too low, the nurses and technicians will try to raise it.  At least some treatment would be administered to the patient so that improvement would be brought about in the vital signs.  The first step in reviving a person is finding out how to determine when he is well.  Vital signs set the norm that is to be achieved.

Spiritual revival also gravitates to norms.  What was to be normal and healthy spiritually for the Israelite nation under the “old covenant” is summed up in the book of Deuteronomy.  Chapters 27 and 28 indicate that when the people are obedient to the Law of Moses and faithful to Jehovah as the only true God, certain physical and material blessings will come their way.  But when they become disobedient or unfaithful to the Lord, their blessings would be turned into curses.  If and when they turn back to God with all their heart, he will forgive them and turn the curses back to blessings (chapters 29-30).  These were the Old Testament standards of spiritual health, and the vital signs of revival.

Believers since the coming of Christ have been living under the “new covenant.”  This arrangement was predicted in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, and is expounded as the “new covenant” in Hebrews 8 through 10.  But the blessings and conditions of “new covenant” living are explained by the Lord Jesus Himself in the Upper Room Discourse, recorded in John 13 through 17.  Here we find the vital signs of New Testament Christianity.  Look for them as you study this long section of the book of John, which is the record of a talk Jesus gave to His disciples the night before He died.  He let them know that He was going away, but that His departure would inaugurate the New Testament Age, which would be very good for His people (John 14:1-27; John 16:5-15).  This era (the one in which we now live) would be characterized by His absence (at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us), His presence (in the Person of the Holy Spirit living within us as our Comforter), and by His imminent return for us.  There would be many phenomenal blessings for committed followers of His under these arrangements.  And we will experience them all when we “abide” in Him (John 15:1-16).  When we fail to abide in Christ, we wither; when we abide in Him, we prosper.  In this important passage of scripture, we can see the blessings Jesus taught us to expect under the new covenant:

1.     Amazing and direct answers to prayer (John 14:12-14; 15:16; and 16:23-24).
2.     Divine help in keeping the Lord’s commandments (John 14:15-17).
3.     Manifestations of the divine presence (John 14:18-23).
4.     Illumination of truth (John 14:24-26; and 16:12-14).
5.     Supernatural peace (John 14:27; 15:11; and 16:33).
6.     Spiritual success and reproduction (John 15:1-16).
7.     His love and His joy (John 15:9-11; and 16:20-22).

We also find several more characteristics of the healthy Christian life:

1.     Love and ministry to one another.
2.     Cleansing from our sins by the Lord.
3.     Purpose for our trials.
4.     Persecution.

And we can see all of these in the book of Acts, which records what actually happened with the Christians when Jesus went back to heaven.  They were healthy, as the vital signs indicated.  When our Christian lives reflect these blessings, we are healthy.  When they lack these things, something is wrong.  We are ill spiritually and in need of revival.

It is apparent from the books of John and Acts that most believers in our day need reviving, as do the great majority of churches.  The issue now is how we can be brought out of our sad condition.  And the Bible tells us exactly and plainly how this is done.


James 4:1-10 is one of the clearest revival passages in the New Testament, and it reflects the principles of every Old Testament revival passage directed to the nation of Israel.  Revivals in all ages are based upon the same principles; only the results differ, based on what covenant is in force.  The principles of James 4 give Christians the promise that when we follow them, God “shall lift you up” (see verse 10).  We are guaranteed spiritual resuscitation if we will do certain things. 

Remember that revival in the New Testament is about restoring the abundant life described in John 13 through 17.  It is only indirectly about closing saloons, changing society, reducing crime, and seeing vast numbers of conversions.  We make a mistake if we try to define revival from history.  By one historical definition of the term, a revival is the advancement of religion at a certain period in a certain place.  This is the result of a widespread revival, in the Biblical sense.  When Christians live the abundant life, they see prayers answered, live lives worthy of their Lord, and win many to Jesus.  But the revival (Biblically speaking) happens in their own hearts before anything happens in the world around them.  Remember what Jesus said in John 7:37-39 about the effect of believers being filled with the Holy Spirit!  The Spirit gushes out from their innermost selves and touches the multitude around them.  We know that the revived believers of the first century were accused of turning “the world upside down” (Acts 17:1-7).  Revival is the spiritual resuscitation of Christians.

In James 4, the great disease among the churches was worldliness, with strife and prayerlessness and unanswered prayers as symptoms (verses 1 through 4).  This “friendship of the world” makes the Spirit within them jealous (verse 5).  They were supposed to love Him rather than the world (see First John 2:15-17, and compare it to this passage), but now they love the world in an adulterous affair by adopting the wicked philosophy of life that defines “the world” as evil.  The only cure for worldliness is the grace of God, accessed by humility (verse 6).  The scriptural principle upon which we can base our confidence that humbling ourselves before Him will bring grace from the Lord is “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”  This is a principle taught and illustrated throughout the Bible, and notably over and over again in the Second Book of Chronicles, in which we find another revival promise that is based on humility (7:14).  Human pride is the great obstacle to divine favor.  He is always offended by it.  But it is also true that God always gives grace when a man humbles himself (see startling illustrations of this in First Kings 21:25-29 and Second Chronicles 33).  Therefore the first step in getting revived by God is to humble ourselves before Him.

This humbling takes the form of submitting to God, according to verse 7.  Submitting to God is letting Him have His way about the issues that have come between oneself and Him.  Notice the change in resistance from verse 6 to verse 7.

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

A man moves from being proud and having God resisting him to being humble, getting grace, and finding himself successfully resisting the devil.  And it happens when he lets the Lord have His way (“Submit yourselves”). 

This new humility leads to a deliberate effort to seek God.  It is as if the backslider (carnal Christian) lost God somewhere and is setting out to find him.  So often God has said, “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13—see also passages such as Deuteronomy 4:29 and Second Chronicles 15:2, where the same promise is made).  This is a revival promise, and is the same promise that the Lord made through the Apostle James.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.  Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
(Verses 8 through 10)

God is the Great Reviver of His people and He always brings them back to life and health when they humble themselves and seek His face.  When we truly seek to find the God of the Bible, Who is holy, we will always turn from our sins, ask for cleansing, and purify our divided hearts.  When God’s people do this, they will be revived.  Of course this is the promise God made to Solomon for Israel that we find in Second Chronicles 7:14.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Now I must testify that I have seen this happen many times.  Revival involves two participants: God and man.  God has already made clear His intentions and desires.  When His wayward people finally admit their error and humbly seek His face, He always comes and revives them.  The two unite in heart and mind, and the believer goes on to live in unity with the will of the Ruler of the universe.  In John 15, Jesus calls this revived way of living abiding in Him.  Read His description and explanation of it in verses 5 through 11 of the chapter.  Whenever the people to whom I have brought the revival message have been willing to humble themselves and seek God’s face for the revival they need, it has come.  As in James 4, the reviving often or usually has come with weeping and mourning, but the humbling brings God’s very presence into the room.  I have seen a week of meetings change markedly, and a church changed in a lasting way as a result of a prayer meeting after a revival service when the divine conditions were met.  I have seen it again and again.  It is not revival preaching alone that brings a true revival, but a response in the people of genuine humility that gets them on their knees to seek the Lord.  This does bring revival.

The world is in need of seeing again the followers of Jesus Christ living the life of victory and joy and peace and power that He died and rose again to give us.  Christians in this sense are the hope of the world and certainly the light of the world.  But we are not there yet.  We need to spend a night in the e.r.  If our churches each had a revival night, there could me many remarkable changes achieved.  Let the truth about New Testament Christianity be preached, and let the people be urged to seek the Lord for that level of living in a prayer meeting that involves honest humility and earnest supplication.  And may our God revive us so that He can impact the world through His people again.

Dr. Rick Flanders

Previous Articles by Dr. Flanders include:
Books and articles have been written on the subject, and some of them leave people confused and unsettled. The debate in some arenas has done more harm than it has done good. Certainly we will be helped if we can discern clear facts about repentance from the Bible. And there are several which are both clear and even undeniable. Consider these:
Understanding Carl McIntire: Important Insights Into Our Present World
Both liberal and conservative churchmen found McIntire’s message and methods disturbing.  The “new evangelical” element rising in the conservative churches joined the liberal leaders of the mainline churches in denouncing, castigating, and even ridiculing him.  But now, with the passage of time, we can get a better perspective on the man and on what he was telling us, and he doesn’t look as crazy as he did to some back in his heyday.
When a pastor changes the church music to the popular “contemporary” style he should consider the seriousness of the decision he is making and ponder in the light of scriptural principle if he is making a mistake.  The error in such a change may be found in at least four missteps he is taking.

March 19, 2015

The Autopsy of a Dead Sermon

Many sermons have little any affect on the listeners when it comes to decision making. As my friend Jim said “They are D.O.A, dead on arrival.” This discussion is not about truth that was last month. This is about effectiveness. Even a dead body has some truth associated with it, but it doesn’t have life.

If you get offended by this discussion you are not reading carefully. Sermons aren’t for and about the preacher. They should be about God, not the human instrument and it should be for the listener. I have no idea how many sermons I have heard in my almost 80 years. I have no idea how many I have preached over 55 years of ministry but a number of them were DOA. I looked over some of messages from those first years in the pastorate and I wondered how anyone ever listened to them. It isn’t that I was not sincere; I just wish someone would have shared the following with me. It wasn’t until my post graduate work that I had a professor who was willing to rip my disjointed thoughts into pieces. I thank God for that man.


Sermons aren’t supposed to be entertainment and the preacher is not an entertainer. That doesn’t mean humor and illustrations are out of the question. But those are only tools and they shouldn’t be the main thing a listener remembers about the sermon. Every message ought to begin with a clear statement of where one is headed and what if any decision or action would be expected. The sermon needs to focus on that subject and lead the person to the stated action. It should close with a clear statement of the idea and clearly lead to any action the speaker intended the listener to have. This is simply the outline of the old black preacher. “I tells them what I going to tells them, then I tells them and then tells them what I told them.” At any point in the message the listener should be able to know what the idea, goal and action is.


There are many forms that a message could take. None of them are necessarily bad. Some however are better than others. Many effective preachers have done well with a verse by verse exegetical approach. It may be the best approach but doctrinal, topical or devotional messages have their place. It is not difficult to make an exegetical approach as dry as dust however. A discourse should not be a technical seminary lecture but the local church is in serious need of teaching, no matter what the makeup of the congregation is. At the same time all messages always should teach. One way to test this is to write in the margin of one’s outline the doctrines being taught by the sermon. Working through a bible book as a series is safe in that sooner or later you come to every doctrine and serious issue that needs to be shared.

As the pulpit master carefully reviews his sermons for the year there are some things he should find. Central doctrines should have been clearly dealt with. A central doctrine is not limited to the things you have to believe to go to heaven. There are subjects that open the door understanding important doctrinal areas. I often ask how long it has been since you preached or heard some speak on the Blessed Hope, the any moment return of Christ for the Church. What someone believes is really not as important as how they got there. That is the real test.


In a former article I discussed the issue of “time” as it relates to a message. One of my students asked “how long does it take for you to prepare a message?” My answer was “it takes fifty four years.” It takes time to prepare an effective message, one that will deliver the intended response. This may sound strange but it takes more time to prepare for a well ordered thirty minutes message than it does for a rambling hour. That is no recommendation for sermonettes that produce christianettes. An effective message has no time for unrelated word slurs.

There are very few preachers who have the ability to hold the attention of an audience for an hour and a half. Many times long winded sermons are there only because the speaker likes the sound of his own voice. The real issue, however, is not the length of a sermon. In a previous article I outline the problem of referring to time. At any place in the message we mention time it will distract the listener. References such as “time is my enemy,” “I don’t have enough time,” “I am almost done,” “this is my last point,” or even “finally” are fatal.  They don’t believe us anyway having heard those disclaimers to many times before. If you give the listener any hint that you are almost done, you are done. They are zipping up bible covers, putting on a coat or ordering lunch, but you are done. Don’t bother to give an invitation you lost them and your sermon is incomplete. How to hold their attention is another matter for another article.


In diligent preparation every word should be weighed. Preachers who wing it are in for a fall. While there must be solid truth taught there is need for application. One should note that application is not part of interpretation. These can only be added once the interpretation is finished. If we begin with the application before the text we are on dangerous ground. An illustration may be used to introduce a message but even that should rise from the theme of the text that has been settled by exegesis. If the listener goes away with a desire to come listen again the message was alive. Dead messages send people away empty and cold.

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min

A communication service of Shepherd's Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.  Shepherd's Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.  Write for information using the e-mail address, shepherdstaff2@juno.comor visit us at The Shepherd Staff.

March 12, 2015

An Anecdotal Answer to the Demise of Fundamentalist Schools

In my previous article, There He Goes Again, Redefining Fundamentalism we considered Dr. Kevin Bauder’s recent article, “Another One Bites the Dust.” We found it,
Pastor Marc Monte
unfortunate that Dr. Bauder could not resist his penchant for trashing what he describes as the ‘King James Only orbit.’  It appears to this avid Bauder reader that the good professor harbors unreasonable angst toward fellow fundamentalists who hold to a view of manuscript evidences different from his own.  His classification, ‘King James Only orbit,’ paints with a broad brush, thereby unfairly dismissing legitimate theological positions within that orbit.” (There He Goes Again, Redefining Fundamentalism)
Today, let’s consider how asking “why?” leads to understanding, and understanding is a good thing.  The rapid demise of some fundamentalist schools leaves the faithful asking “why?” and several observers have recently sought to answer the question.

Dr. Bauder’s article, “Another One Bites the Dust,” presents at least six answers to the question of why our generation is witnessing the demise of formerly venerable, fundamentalist institutions.  All of his observations deserve thoughtful consideration.  One among them, however, demands our focused attention.

Dr. Bauder states “Critics of change are quick to argue that these institutions have collapsed because they abandoned their historic commitments and alienated their constituencies.”  While he doesn’t elaborate on the concerns of the “critics,” his acknowledging of their position at least presents inquiring fundamentalists with a place to begin.

While all of Dr. Bauder’s reasons for the death of fundamentalist schools have merit, the idea of fundamentalist schools changing and alienating their constituency demands far greater exploration than given in his article.

This author admits that such a claim is difficult to quantify.  No one has conducted solid research to numerically back the conclusion.  The lack of quantifiable research, however, does not dismiss the concern.  In addressing the issue, therefore, this author will draw primarily from his long-standing connections within the fundamentalist realm, making observations that are anecdotal, but none-the-less vital in understanding the current situation.

Historically, fundamentalists founded schools as a conservative reaction to change within the educational structures of their day.  Bob Jones University, for example, had its beginnings when Bob Jones Sr. became concerned with the changes taking place in theological schools contemporary to his era.  The conservative, fundamentalist position became a resonant rallying cry for supporters of that institution.  The same could be said, in one degree or another, for other fundamentalist institutions.  Regardless of the motives of their founders, they all offered a bastion for conservative fundamentalists who were resistant to both cultural and theological change.  These people became the schools’ core constituency.  In turn, the schools turned out thousands of pastors, many of whom are still in America’s pulpits, who mirrored the rock-ribbed convictions of their schools.  Such pastors and churches became feeders to the schools championing their convictions.  And the whole scheme worked marvelously—until the schools changed.

The advent of marketing changed everything.  Schools second-guessed their positions in the light of secular marketers who warned that their models were not culturally sustainable.  This author was a student at Bob Jones University (1985-1989) when, on the advice of a marketing firm, the university dropped its moniker, The World’s Most Unusual University, in exchange for the more happy and positive motto, The Opportunity Place.  While such a change is substantially innocuous, it signaled a willingness to chase after marketing schemes that demand the downplaying of conservative convictions.  And the core constituency winced, but largely continued their support. 

Without going into great detail (other authors have amply addressed this), Northland Baptist Bible College traveled the same road, but at a much accelerated pace.  In the case of Northland, they traveled so far and so fast that the core constituency abandoned ship at an astonishingly rapid rate—hastening the school’s demise.*  While anecdotal (because we lack exact research numbers), this author believes few would argue against this point.  The anecdotal argument, then, is that when a school abandons its core positions—separation, music, standards, associations, conservative theology—
the base notices, and they withdraw support because they were trained to do so by the institutions that have now betrayed them.
In a friendly exchange with an administrator from my alma mater, he pointed out that I have tended, from time to time, to write articles of concern with regard to the drift within fundamentalism.  He expressed concern that such concentration likely increased my personal stress level.  He was, incidentally, correct!  My response was something like this, “Well, I’m just doing what I was trained to do at BJU in the 1980’s.  His reply:  a wry smile and the words, “I know.”  I intend this anecdote only to illustrate that the base was trained to oppose change interpreted as compromise.  So when the schools make changes that some interpret as compromise, the reaction of the base should come as no surprise.

Dr. Bauder also makes the salient point that the “number of Bible colleges based in local churches has probably never been higher” and that these schools “siphon students away from more mainstream and responsible schools.  His assertion is correct, but it begs the question, “Why have these schools arisen?”  The answer, anecdotally of course, is pastoral dissatisfaction with the change in direction of “mainstream and responsible schools.”

Would all of the recently deceased schools have flourished had they not alienated their base of support?  Possibly so, but likely not.  Institutions rise and fall.  Every dog has his day.  The key, however, is this:  the left-leaning changes in now defunct fundamentalist schools certainly hastened their eventual demise.  And it is likely that some would have survived if they had remained true to the visions and convictions of their founders.  The lesson, of course, is simple:  Be what God originally called you to be.  Get your marching orders from the Bible, not the latest marketing company.  And base your practices on Scripture, not the hottest youth culture trends.  It’s simple.  But, for some, it wasn’t so easy.  And it proved to be the death knell of once venerable institutions.

Pastor Marc Monte
Faith Baptist Church, Avon, IN

*Sample Articles on Northland’s Demise:
Is the NBBC Position Statement still in force…? NBBC was so ‘Baptistic’ that when the NBBC Position Statement was written they found it necessary to offer an explanation for having in Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. and Dr. Bob, III. Today, NIU presents non-Baptists and Southern Baptists in the classroom and chapel pulpit who…do not want to be identified as fundamental Baptists or with Fundamentalism. Yet NIU’s president and chancellor insist the university ‘is unchanged’.”
With this video and accompanying pages at NIU’s web site the downward spiral of compromise of a once fine school continues. For some NIU has hit bottom.”
How can NIU include a member of a Charismatic church on its payroll when the [NIU] application for and renewal of employment requires opposition to and rejection of the Charismatic Movement?”

Compromise is almost never towards the conservative, never toward giving God the benefit of the doubt. Under Matt Olson NIU has compromised its historic foundations, current NIU handbooks and Articles of Faith. His destiny seems to be to become a hero to the younger generation. He will not accept the caution and counsel of many seasoned men who have tried to appeal to his senses, his conscience, and his theology.”