IS THERE STILL ANY HOPE? THE BIG PICTURE [Part 3]

“But we must avoid the common fault of pushing the ‘other world’ into the future. It is not future, but present. It parallels our familiar physical world, and the doors between the two worlds are open.” A.W. Tozer

[One of our house church members drew my attention to these words from A.W. Tozer (‘The Pursuit of God’) based on Heb. 12:18-24: God’s people have ALREADY come to Mt. Zion and the Heavenly Jerusalem. We sing (with good intentions)‘We’re Marching to Zion,’ when we’re already there!]

Future Hope Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Sociologist and preacher Tony Campolo in a message entitled ‘The Gospel of Hope for a Weary People,’ mentioned how some of his students felt really depressed after their study of TS Eliot over a period of time, especially the prospect of ‘going out’ not with a bang but with a ‘whimper’ – Campolo’s reaction? If we are to go out, let it be with the ‘bang’ of the‘Hallelujah Chorus!!’ (Handel)

Everybody got in the act, including the conductors, at the Nati at the National Choral Council's Annual Messiah Sing-In at Boettcher Concert Hall...

Having dealt with hope founded in the past, coming alive in the present, we now consider the present-future aspect of the Christian hope.

Peter’s promise of hope holds true for the ‘present-future.’ 1 Pet. 1:4-5, ‘You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish – an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded (a military term, present continuous tense) by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time’ (CEB). And what an inheritance it is, because it’s fulfilled in and guaranteed by Jesus Christ, who is himself absolutely pure, enduring and imperishable!

a) In OT times, the term ‘inheritance’ described the apportioned lot to be possessed in Canaan by Israel. In 1 Peter the Greek word ‘kleronomia’ includes the idea of a fully realized possession of the inheritance, rather than just the title. And, unlike any inheritance in this world (e.g. Canaan could be dispossessed, her inhabitants’ possessions waste away, etc), the inheritance of believers is ‘kept safe’ in heaven for their permanent enjoyment. At its highest, this inheritance is the Lord himself – as the Shorter Catechism puts it, ‘The chief end of man is… to enjoy Him for ever!’ What a permanent and beautiful treasure! Can you and I truly say that we enjoy God for who he is, not just for the good gifts he gives us? If not, we have a mission on our hands…

b) Not only is this heavenly inheritance prepared for our enjoyment, but we, for whom it is divinely intended, are being consciously and continually ‘guarded’ until that ‘final day’ by God’s mighty power (our part in the process is to simply keep believing and persevering in Christ).

c) All this affords believers an ‘indescribable and glorious joy’ (1 Pet. 1:8-9/NRSV) amid our present trials. Almost unbelievable. Any video clip on the suffering underground church in China or Iran will vividly demonstrate this!

By way of practical implementation, N.T. Wright in his ‘Surprised by Hope’ reminds us that, in building for the kingdom in this age, we are building permanently and magnificently! He uses the image of building a cathedral over a long period of time, with many stonemasons and artists each doing their bit.

The architect, who has the whole plan in mind, has passed on his instructions to the masons and workers, each focusing on some part of the great building according to their particular skills. Some may not even live to see the final product, but they know that their time and effort will not be wasted – in fact, they labour in the knowledge that the end-product will surpass their wildest expectations and imaginations, as each one faithfully does his/her part in the grand scheme of things.

Hence our present kingdom work connects with the ultimate future-life in which God will gather all things together and ‘making all things new’ in Christ. Wright adds,‘”What we do in the Lord is ‘not in vain;‘ and that is the mandate we need for every act of justice and mercy, every programme of ecology, every effort to reflect God’s wise stewardly image into his creation…The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last… Applied to the mission of the church, this means we must work in the present for the advance signs of that eventual state of affairs when God is ‘all in all,’ when his kingdom has come and his will is done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.'” Wow! Imagine how this changes the way we think, live, work, play, relate to God and neighbour, preach/gossip the Good News, disciple the nations, plant ‘churches’ made up of ‘ordinary people’ (particularly the poor) and serve humankind – until at last we fully realize the one great family of God!

But how will we sustain our hope and labours in the meanwhile? Normally my wife and I dream dreams that are totally nonsensical. However Melanie shared a dream (03/04/21) with me recently, and I immediately asked her to write it down because I saw some significance in it. She dreamed that, all of a sudden, there was no bread to be had anywhere in the world. Every shop she visited had no bread. She visited a home for the elderly – they were having lunch but complained that there wasn’t any bread (even yesterday’s bread) on the table. Next Melanie was teaching a classroom of pre-school children who had nothing to eat – frantically she went looking everywhere to find something substantial to eat, if only she could get hold of just a few loaves of bread. Nothing else she gave the children seemed to satisfy their hunger. The dream ended with her feeling totally helpless and despondent. My mind immediately turned to that profound passage in Jn. 6, where Jesus presented himself as ‘bread’ to the crowd, the disciples (including Simon Peter!) and the unbelieving clergy/Jews.

Homemade Bread (The Easiest!) - Gimme That Flavor

‘I am the bread of life… He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty… I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day'” (the latter phrase occurs 3 times in Jn. 6) (excerpts from Jn. 6:32-59/NIV). Here’s the thing: every believer, every Christian community, needs to feast daily ‘in their hearts by faith’ on Christ, i.e. his person, promises, presence and life. Unless we get into this on-going spiritual discipline and practice, I don’t think we’ll be able to stay the course until that very final day (one can hardly serve and work when on a hunger-strike). But if we DO, how many will we feed (besides ourselves), and how many will be raised from the dead, now and ‘at the last day!’ For now, it’s not a case of how worthy I am to eat of the bread, but how hungry! ‘This is what God’s Kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich and worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more’ (Rachel Held Evans, 1981-2019) (1)

[As a matter of interest, check out the lyrics of some classic hymns on the theme of Zion and feeding on the Bread of Heaven: e.g. John Newton’s ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ and William Williams’‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah’ ]

FOOTNOTE:

(1) This top-selling American writer had some wonderful things to say in her short journey on earth. I believe she was right to question popular American evangelicalism and cultural Christianity – however, imho, like so many ‘progressives’/’inclusivists,’ she at times went beyond a scholarly and balanced view of Scripture. Sadly some sincere believers don’t seem to get beyond ‘de-constructing’ their faith to ‘re-constructing’ their faith, based on ‘the faith delivered once and for all’ (Jude v. 3/CEB). A lifetime of walking with the Lord has taught me that we too often throw out the baby with the bathwater! [For my blog-series on Universalism, cf my Archives July 24, 2020]

IS THERE STILL ANY HOPE? THE BIG PICTURE [Part 2]

How hope can keep you healthier and happier

We’re addressing the question, ‘IS THERE STILL HOPE?’ (see Part 1). Here in South Africa NEWS 24 announced a few weeks ago that as a result of the Covid-19 lock-down, even children are showing signs of neurological damage as a side-effect of the pandemic – I guess that’s global. When all seems hopeless in our world and we feel hope-less, even as Christians, where do we turn? As Part 1 revealed, the only ultimate solution must lie in the person of the resurrected Christ who straddles time and eternity.

Returning to our text-passage in 1 Peter 1:3ff, we notice that our Christian hope is not only anchored in the past but realized in the PRESENT. ‘On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (v. 3/CEB). Why a ‘living hope?’ (briefly)

a) It is based, as we noted in Part 1, on the intervention of the unique, living, trinitarian God in this world (v.2).

b) It is based, as we have noted in detail in Part 1, on the historical, resurrected Jesus (v.3).

c) It is based on the ever-living Christ, who ‘is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Heb. 13:7-8). It’s a hope that is alive and well as Christ is alive and well. We’re all familiar with the saying,‘where there’s life there’s hope’ – for Jesus-followers it works both ways: where there is hope, there’s life! This ‘life,’ as the apostle John points out, is a relational and qualitative life, that of another dimension and kingdom, as we commune with Jesus every day.

d) It is based on a supernatural experience of the risen Christ, realized in mind, heart and life by the life-giving Wind of God! (Jn. 3:1-8) I.o.w. our hope is felt, it’s experiential.‘You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!’

Moving on, I believe we should not only regularly remind ourselves of the above, but learn to think more biblically about Christ and his kingdom message no matter how long we’ve been in the faith! Here I want to make a few references to NT scholar Dr. N.T. Wright and particularly his very enlightening ‘Surprised by Hope’:

Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright) - MasterLectures

1) By recognizing that in Jewish thought, only a very thin ‘curtain’ separated God’s space from human space – in the NT a ‘paper-thin’ divide separates our earthly life from Christ’s kingdom life! We need to expect God, as we journey with him in meditation and prayer, to surprise us at any moment by ‘breaking through’ into our own lives and in the lives of those we touch day by day. Do we really believe that eternity breaks into our time and space whenever the Good News establishes justice and peace among humankind, bringing healing and wholeness to broken people and restoring relationship, both vertical and horizontal??

2) By realizing that ‘heaven’ is not up there in the sky somewhere. No, ‘heaven’ is God’s ‘control room’ for earth, and his Son Jesus is the new CEO! Wright submits that basically, heaven and earth, in biblical cosmology, are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are simply two dimensions of God’s good creation. ‘All authority is given to me,’ said Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, ‘in heaven and on earth.’ (Mt. 28:18)

3) Jesus’ Messiah-ship was never intended just for Israel per se but for his kingdom worldwide (I have argued this exhaustively in previous blog posts: Israel exists for Christ, not vice versa). E.g. the historian-evangelist Luke insists that, since Jesus really was raised from the dead, the ancient Scriptures of Israel must be read as a story reaching its climax in Jesus and will then produce its proper fruit not only in Israel but in Jesus’ followers everywhere and, through them, in all the world. Thus our/the Church’s mission ‘is nothing more nor less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection,and thus the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made’ (Wright). To be totally practical, this could involve us (in a Good News context/Lk. 4:18-19) in running playgroups for children of single-parent working mums, running a drug-rehab home, facilitating a soup-kitchen among the poor, building bridges of peace cross-culturally, etc. Some years ago an English-South African young couple intentionally planted a house church in the notorious (for gangs, drug-running, violence) Cape Flats area to help young people find a new beginning, bravely using their home as a house church focusing on ministry to the needy in the community. They awaken and go to sleep with the sound of gun fire. Yet they persist because they believe God is active in healing broken people in a broken community. They believe that in the midst of despair, there is always hope in Christ (cf. Footnotes 1 & 2).

Another way to keep present hope alive is by ‘Keeping Christianity Christian’ (de Gruchy), i.e. by displaying Jesus to the world. Peter’s compatriot records how some Greeks came to worship in the Jerusalem temple (Jn. 12:20-26). They had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth who had raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead; they had seen him in the distance, but they really wanted to meet him firsthand and get to know him. So they came to a disciple of Jesus’ and humbly said, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus!’ (v.21/CEB) So the disciples in turn introduced them to Jesus, who then told them about the meaning of what was happening to him and what it would mean to follow him. This cameo really describes the task of the Church! How often, unfortunately, Church institutionalism and traditionalism have hidden the real Jesus from sight (D. Bonhoeffer). Jesus is lost in the institution and Church constitutions and dogma, so instead of of the world seeing Christ at work through the life of his followers, he is hidden from view – that’s why I left denominationalism 14 years ago. My dear reader, what steps will you take to change this all too common negative image of the Church??

Peter concludes in our text-passage, that, whether we’re talking about hope past, present or future, we can never be sure of anything until it has been thoroughly tested. For this reason our faith and hope will pass through testings/trials, which can be very painful. Paul assures us that we’ll never be over-tested (1 Cor. 10:13), but we need to make peace with trial and testing until our final day on this earth (3). ‘You now rejoice in this hope, even if it is necessary for you to be distressed (deeply-felt, mental and emotional distress) for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though itself is tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed!’ (v. 6-7/CEB). The ultimate and very encouraging outcome of our sufferings is that we know that our faith is not something we have produced but given us by the living God. That’s why our faith is ‘valuable’ even in God’s sight, bringing the Almighty praise, glory and honour! (v.7)

In our third/final article on HOPE we plan to engage with its present-future implications for those trusting in God. (See FOOTNOTES)

✓ Biblical Images, Pictures and Free Stock Photos

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Cf. J. de Gruchy’s ‘Without Apology.’ Respectfully, I don’t go with all of his theology, but he does write from wide experience of the Church over a long and fruitful lifetime.

(2) Having planted a few house churches over the past 14 years in our metro, some among the very poor, I can testify of the hope the Good News brings in the most hope-less of situations. There are many books available on ‘organic house churches’ and how they function, by various authors, should you be interested: e.g. Wolfgang Simson (‘Houses That Change the World‘), Frank Viola (‘Finding Organic Church,’ ‘Reimagining Church,’ etc), Robert & Julia Banks (‘The Church Comes Home’), etc. Cf. Luke’s photograph of the Early Church reflected in Acts 2:42-47: of course we have to contextualize this in the 21st century.

(3) Western ‘Christian media’ often lives in total denial of this truth in their pursuance of a popular, comfortable ‘gospel’ which is in fact no gospel at all! I have to counter this worldly, power-driven heresy often in my oversight of house churches in our city.

IS THERE STILL ANY HOPE? THE BIG PICTURE [PART 1]

Some years ago I attempted to keep fit by attending an aerobics class, in which we exercised ad nauseum to a high-volume song ‘Give Me Hope, Jo’anna.’ I imagined it referred to a young man and his lover-friend named Joanna, only to discover recently, to my total embarassment, that it arose from the 1980’s struggle years in Johannesburg, expressing the pain of Soweto’s citizens under the jackboot of the Apartheid military machine and the death of many innocent victims. Listen to the rendering of the song below (the sound and lyrics, poor at first, improve)…

For Some Older Adults, a Pandemic of Loneliness - UConn Today

Our question is one psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrestled with amid the horrific suffering of innocent Jews in the notorious Auschwitz death-camp: his ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ records the story of many fellow-prisoners who died almost immediately on losing hope of survival. Following the terrorist mass murders in Madrid in March of 2004, the killers proclaimed ‘You love life, we love death!’ A friend of mine in China tells of that massive nation’s soaring divorce rate: older folk, with financial support in mind, pressurize the younger set to marry early – but these same younger people grew up in 1-child households where they were the sole focus of their parents, their self-centredness definitely not making for healthy marriages! Jurgen Moltmann in his very recent ‘Hope In These Troubled Times’ mentions how humans cannot exist without the ecology and that God breathed his Spirit not only into humans but into all of his creatures (Ps. 104:24-30) – yet we are busy destroying these at an alarming rate. In my country SADAG reports that (no doubt accelerated by Covid isolation) 1 in 6 South Africans suffer from depression, anxiety or substance abuse: a family doctor in a small Western Cape farming community recently mentioned that approx. 80% of his patients are being treated for psycho-somatic illnesses. So, is there still any hope for our world, the Church, and you and me??

To tackle this really tough question, I invite you to travel back with me some 2,000 years to the life and times of the apostle Peter as he writes (startlingly) from Rome, under severe (documented) persecution from the notorious Nero: ‘May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance which cannot perish – an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time. You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed!’ (1 Pet. 1:3-7/CEB). Is the man crazy, or has he got hold of something unique here??

The apostle Peter, impulsive bully turned self-effacing servant of Jesus the Christ (1), sent this powerful encouragement via his amanuensis Silas (Peter’s written Greek was poor) to the mainly Gentile diaspora-groups scattered throughout northern and western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Maybe Silas had interested Peter in this area because they had not been touched by the apostle Paul’s church-planting journeys. These new believers were struggling to make sense of their faith amid their persecution and relative isolation. [Interestingly, Peter writes about their ‘salvation’ from a trinitarian perspective: these Gentiles were ‘chosen by the Father, made holy by the Holy Spirit, because of the faithful obedience and sacrifice of Jesus Christ’ (1:2/CEB)]

Peter’s promise of hope is founded in the historical PAST. ‘God made this Jesus to be Lord and Christ when he raised him from the dead,’ Peter proclaimed in Jerusalem (Acts 2:36). Sadly, much of postmodern Christianity, as a result of lop-sided existentialist teachers going back to scholars like Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann, and in more recent times the top-selling American mystic Fr. Richard Rohr, have subtly prised biblical spirituality from Christianity’s classic, historical resurrection-roots (2). The highly rated English NT scholar, Prof. N.T. Wright of St. Andrews University, writing of the early Christian hope in its historical setting, states ‘Take away the stories of Jesus’ birth, and all you lose is two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection and you lose the entire New Testament, and most of the second-century fathers as well’ (3). Back to our text, ‘May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (v. 3/CEB). In other words, Christ’s resurrection-life produced a similar life in Peter and his readers! Furthermore, this ‘new life’ was not based on a human philosophy or a teaching but on a person, the risen Christ. Turning to Peter’s fellow-apostle, Paul, we can’t imagine Paul’s message without the resurrection: “I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins… he was buried, and he rose again on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the 12… then to more than 500 brothers and sisters at once – most of them are still alive… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I was born at the wrong time…. So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, ‘There’s no resurrection from the dead?’ If there’s no resurrection from the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either…. then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless… you are still in your sins, and what’s more those who have died in Christ are gone forever… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead… Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too’ (excerpts from 1 Cor. 15/ CEB). The empty tomb was equally foundational in the writings of the early Church Fathers: Clement and Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus, to name a few. It was one of the key-beliefs which infuriated the pagans in Lyon in AD 177 and drove them to butcher several Christians including their bishop. On a more contemporary note, the absolutely meticulous German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has written concerning the resurrection, ‘The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believed it happened, you have to change the way you live!’ As followers of Christ we don’t take some ‘leap into the dark’ but in fact a ‘leap into the light!

Peter’s promise of hope is realized in the PRESENT. (v. 3/CEB). It also holds true for the FUTURE (v. 4-5) More about these in Parts 2 and 3.

In concluding part 1 (so much could be said on this subject!), let me say that the conviction of serious Jesus-followers around the world is clear: we believe the only real hope for the Church and the world at large, lies in the historic Good News declared by Peter and his compatriots of the first centuries AD. I hope this conviction grows on my readers as we proceed. As one who has traveled widely, I have seen, over a life-time, it’s practical outworking in faithful little Christian assemblies around the globe, in the lives of the poorest of the poor, and among the most unlikely ethnic groups of the world.

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Cf. at least 3 cataclysmic events in the life of Simon Peter dramatically shaped him for his future apostleship: his inspired confession of the Christ (Mt. 16:13-20), his personal discovery of the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1-9) and the Spirit’s empowering at Pentecost (Acts 2). If able, take time to read these carefully, yet imaginatively.

(2) I’ve been following a South African academic presently lecturing in the UK, Dr. Frederik Mulder (same surname and clan), challenging the Dutch Reformed Church in SA whose senior seminary professors, without exception, deny the historical/bodily resurrection of Jesus. They have so bought into the existentialism of Bultmann and others that for them the empty tomb is no longer vital to faith. This departure from the historical faith is producing sad results in the DRC seminaries, pulpits and congregations.

(3) Cf. Tom Wright’s thoroughly researched and thought-through ‘Surprised by Hope,’ p. 54.

GOD’S ‘LITTLE CHRIST’S!’

FreeBibleimages :: Jesus appears to the Disciples :: The disciples are in a  room with the door locked when Jesus appears to them (Luke 24:36-49, John  20:19-23)

John 20:19-23

“It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.Then Jesus came and stood among them.’Peace be with you,’ he said. After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven…'” (NIV)

Following Jesus’ enigmatic death, the first disciples, uncertain and fearful, did one good thing: they gathered together in a convenient room to process this unexpected turn of events. They were beginning to discover the rich experience of koinonia (so rare in institutional Christianity). This became their habitual practice following Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of the Spirit:‘They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the communion meal, and the prayers,’ with dramatic ripple-effects. (Acts 2:42, 43ff/MSG) (1)

On this particular occasion, the disciples gathered behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jewish leaders,’ i.e. the temple police (they’re still around) [in a small way I can identify with the disciples: I’ve been under secret police surveillance twice in my life, the first time in Malawi during President Banda’s clampdown on the Church and the second time in communist Central China while meeting with some underground church leaders].The Gospels and Acts repeatedly reveal the spiritual blindness of the law-driven temple clergy: cf. Jn. 9 & 10’s contrast of false shepherds and the true Shepherd. (2)

The living Jesus burst into the room to ‘surprise them with joy!‘ Twice he greeted them, ‘Peace!’ He showed them his hands and side, bringing recognition and relief. [any reader currently ‘locked-in’ by personal pain or overwhelming fear, believe me I’ve been there – why not allow the tender Jesus to unlock your room and gradually restore the joy of your salvation?]

Together with re-assurance of Jesus living-ness, came Jesus’ clear commission: ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…’

  • Make no mistake, God is in himself a dynamic God. The late Dr. Ralph Christensen, my missions mentor, used to ask his students ‘Where is God?’ We could never quite get the answer right: ‘He’s going into his world!’ Brilliant South African missiologist, Prof. David Bosch, made it clear that ‘missiology’ is ‘the mother of all theology.’ Note how all the Gospel-accounts record the Great Commission: Mt. 28; Mk. 16; Lk. 24 (& Acts 1ff); Jn. 20. This is one of the primary reasons for Christ’s gift of the Spirit: the purpose of the Spirit supersedes, in a way, even his gifts (William Temple). John tells us how Jesus“breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” Earlier in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus had already promised the energizing gift of the Spirit to all who would ‘believe’ (7:37-30), a promise fully realized at Pentecost and forever thereafter (Acts 2ff).
  • Such was the authority given to these primitive non-clergy disciples that Jesus could add,‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ Ah the beauty and practicality of ‘the priesthood of all believers!’ (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9ff). And the privilege of consorting with what my brother-blogger Tobie v.d. Westhuizen once so aptly called ‘God’s little people’ (cf. his blog ‘Natural Church’). That was in fact the vision of Bohemian reformer Jan Hus, long before Luther and Calvin – sadly it cost him his life at the hands of the official church on 6th of July 1415 when burned at the stake for daring to speak truth to power.
  • It is critically important for us to note that this commission was fundamentally incarnational! [PS, this fact inspired my MTh dissertation‘Toward the Re-Incarnation of the Church in the 21st Century’ some years ago]. Jesus came into the world fully divine and fully human: Jn. 1; Phil. 2:5ff; etc. As was Jesus, so must we be in the world, conveyors of his divine life (2 Pet. 1:3ff) in a human way. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, disillusioned with the irrelevance of the German Church under Hitler, called Christians to drop their ‘religiosity’ in order to become truly ‘human.’ This was the life he lived among his fellow-inmates, even in Flossenburg Prison while awaiting execution by order of Hitler himself. His whole life and teaching was a call to radical Christianity, as outlined in his classic,‘The Cost of Discipleship.’
  • Our text also marks us out as ‘a community of the forgiven and the forgiving.’ How the Master looked past his first disciples’ many sins, weaknesses and blunders. Think of Peter and Judas. Today we live in a horrendously angry and unforgiving world: consider the division of the American Church and society by party-politics, the boiling racism in every part of the world, etc. (Cf. my blog-series “‘I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins’ – Really?” Archives 19/10/2020, part 2)
  • This commission is only possible via an imparted life, the very life of Christ within us ‘by faith,’ a life lived out, a life for Christ and others. Salvation is not pie in the sky when we die but a current commitment to a gardener and the fuller establishment of God’s paradise on earth. The process started in Eden, continued through his remnant in Israel (rebellious Israel as a whole failed to be God’s vineyard giving messianic life to the nations), Jesus came as the true Israelite and the true Vine, and the Church by his indwelling life is committed to growing that garden until the day of its full fruition in God’s new heaven on earth (Rev. 21). (3)
  • What does such a Christ-life really look like? If we were looking at Matthew’s Gospel, I would suggest the Beatitudes of Mt. 5. In the Johannine context, I would refer my readers to John’s first Letter, which is essentially about knowing, experiencing and living out God’s love for us in Christ in a hostile world. To some extent the cliche applies: it’s not so much about how much we ‘know’ but how much we ‘care’ that impacts people – i.o.w. a little bit of ‘tlc’ goes a long, long way! Thus early Christianity pervaded and transformed much of the Middle East, North Africa, Asia Minor, Europe and beyond.
THE MORAVIAN REVIVAL OF 1727 - BEAUTIFUL FEETBEAUTIFUL FEET
Section Two: The Beginning of the Modern Missionary Movement Lesson Three:  The Moravians Introduction: - Count Zinzendorf and Herrnhut 1. Revival at  Herrnhut. - ppt download

Here let me mention two more modern illustrations of Jn. 20. I refer firstly to the 18th century Moravians of Herrnhutt. Motivated by the ‘crucified Lamb who had conquered,’ they set up a dynamic community on a piece of land made available by German Count von Zinzendorf. They worked hard on loving God and one another. Out of this communitas and a 24/7 prayer watch, there emerged a unique lay missions movement which impacted many nations across the globe, including my native South Africa. With my family we spent a day at Genadendal and Elim Mission in the W. Cape, where the witness continues to this day. On my bookshelf I have Bernhard Kruger’s ‘The Pear Tree Blossoms,’ the history of the Moravian Church in SA 1737-1869.

A second example. In the 1990’s I was privileged to visit Antioch Mission in Sao Paulo, Brazil, established in 1980 somewhat along the lines of the Moravian vision. In the late 1960’s, amid a charismatic renewal in the state of Parana, two young Presbyterian pastors founded a Bible School for training in preaching, prayer, healing and holistic ministry. Initially resistant to global missions, American missionary Barbara Burns persuaded them otherwise. As the community began to pray for the world, the first missionaries were sent out in the mid-70’s to Portuguese-speaking Mozambique. By 2010 the mission had sent out 92 Brazilians into 19 nations, a good proportion serving in ‘closed’ Arab countries in the Middle East. I will never forget that visit: the training facilities were so basic, the sense of Christian unity was wonderful, and central to it all was a prayer chapel with a huge world map and prayer booths set up for one-hour cycles of prayer by volunteers. This agency went on to specialize in training for evangelism, discipleship, church-planting, children’s ministry (80% of the world is poor and young), community development and sports ministry.

A concluding challenge. Brennan Manning once preached a powerful message entitled ‘Settlers or Pioneers?’ The implication was that we are called as Christians to be ‘pioneers’ rather than ‘settlers.’ Of course there is a case for being ‘settled’ in Christ, from which all fruitful service flows. But ultimately, every community and believer is called to be a pioneer for Jesus. We can never afford to settle into spiritual complacency like the Asian churches of Philadelphia or Laodicea: the exalted Lord remonstrated with those early churches, “‘Now see what I’ve done. I’ve opened a door before you that no one can slam shut… Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.'”… “‘You’re not cold, you’re not hot… You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit…’… ‘The people I love, I call to account – prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!’… ‘Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.'” (Rev. 3:8ff, 15ff/MSG).

As “GOD’S ‘LITTLE CHRIST’S'” it behoves us to listen well to Jesus, think on him well, and, indwelt by him, serve him as did the first believers with childlike hilarity even amid trouble and opposition!

boy sitting on bench while holding a book

FOOTNOTES:

(1) As I’ve done many times before, I commend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little gem,‘The Life Together.’ I promise you, you’ll never look at ‘fellowship’ quite the same way again! [Cf. YouTube ‘Agent of Grace’ for Bonhoeffer’s costly witness during WW2]

(2) Cf. my twin-blogs on ‘Crazy Christians.’ The way back to sanity? – reading Galatians each day for at least a week if not a month.

(3) ‘Christ who is our life…’ As John’s Gospel clearly indicates, Christ’s service sprang from his life and identity in the Father. We too can only truly minister once we’ve grasped our gracious identity in Christ. It is the overflow of his life, to all and sundry. Cf. Jn. 15 and my archives for ‘Apostles of Abiding Love,’ publ. 19/02/2020.

THUNDER IN THE DESERT: ‘PREPARE FOR GOD’S GLORIOUS ARRIVAL!’ [Part 2]

[In Part 1 we dealt with clearing the rock of DECEPTIVE IDOLATRY to pave the way for God’s arrival]

“Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare for GOD’S arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then GOD’S bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as GOD has said!'” [Isaiah 40:3-5/MSG]

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[2] THE ‘ROCK’ OF UNHOLY ALLIANCES… [INCLUDING EVIL SUPERNATURALISM]

Despite many loving warnings from the LORD, Israel persisted in unsavoury alliances with pagan nations and the dark powers of this world: a few examples…

(1) King Saul’s consultation with the medium at Endor (1 Sam. 28:3ff). [1]

(2) ‘Wise’ King Solomon who, despite his professed love for YAHWEH, made a marriage alliance with Pharoah’s daughter (1 Kings 3:1ff).

(3) Israel’s fickle alliance with the King of Samaria (Hos. 10:1-6).

(4) Israel’s impulsive reliance on Egypt: ‘Oh, rebellious children, says the LORD, who carry out a plan, but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt without asking my counsel, to take refuges in the protection of Pharoah, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt’ (Isaiah 30:1ff/NRSV).

Now contrast this with the one true Israelite, Jesus…

(1) Mark’s Gospel-story opens with Jesus confronting an ‘unclean spirit’ in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk. 1:21ff). Do demons attend church services? – O yeh!

(2) In his ministry tour of beautiful Galilee, Jesus (repeatedly) confronted the ugly powers of darkness head-on (Mk. 1:32ff).

(3) In all four Gospel accounts, our Lord challenged the clergy’s unholy alliances with legalism, traditionalism and even the devil himself: ‘Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth… he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!’ (Jn. 8:39ff/43-45/NRSV).

The apostles did like the Master, in their practice and teaching. Paul exhorted the saints to avoid any alliance with the unholy trinity of ‘the world, the flesh and the devil:’ “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God has said, ‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from among them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’ Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1/NRSV):

(1) Thus Paul called the Ephesian congregation to live as children of light rather than of darkness: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold...’ (Eph. 4:25-28/NIV).

(2) Similarly he warned the Corinthian church: ‘For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension against that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:3-5/NIV). Paul was here exposing the false claims of certain ‘smart alec’ and power-hungry ‘super-apostles,’ who were resorting to psychic and occultic powers (anything new under the sun?) in their ministry ambitions. He warned the Church never to underestimate ‘the entrenched power of unbelief and pride in the human mind. Only the right weapons will subdue and capture this proud fortified rebel who places himself over God; those right weapons are the words of the gospel… preaching fails at its most critical point if it does not on every occasion bring the claims of the lordship of Christ and his saving power into clearest focus!’ (Dr. Paul Barnett/‘The Message of 2 Corinthians’)

Indonesian revivalist Mel Tari compared the Church to a very powerful motor-boat, unable to move because it’s tied to a strong tree on the river-bank! Pretty much explains things…

[On the subject of ‘deliverance from occult powers,’ see footnote [2] below]

[3] THE ‘ROCK’ OF SINFUL UNBELIEF…

This would of course include general ‘unbelief’ toward GOD and his promises in Christ: Rom. 11:17-24 (The Remnant of Israel); Heb. 3:7-19 (Warning Against Unbelief); etc.

Here I want to zero in on believers’ unbelief regarding the promised gift of THE HOLY SPIRIT. In recent blogs I’ve shared about my late 1980’s personal quest for ‘more of God.’ While holidaying on the beautiful Southern Cape coast, I took time out to read and pray through Dr. Andrew Murray’s ‘The Believer’s Full Blessing of Pentecost.’ On completion, I got down on my knees, and in simple faith surrendered every part of me, and my ministry, to King Jesus. That childlike prayer for the Holy Spirit’s anointing and fruitfulness became a watershed-moment in my subsequent ministry and preaching.

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Every leader will tell you it’s all too easy to default to self-reliance and self-effort as the years go by! I consider Gal. 3:10-14 (Faith or Observance of the Law?) a key-scripture in helping us avoid that pitfall (i.e. of the ‘gospel of trying harder’): “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through FAITH.” (NRSV) (cf. NRSV’s sturdier translation of Gal. 2:20, ‘I live by the faith OF the Son of God’ (N.T. Wright et al). You see, it’s not a ‘striving faith’ but rather ‘a resting faith!’ Mel Tari compares this ‘resting faith’ with sitting down in a sturdy chair, allowing ourselves to fully relax and rest. Sweet!

Two encouragements for all those faithful saints who at times despair of today’s Church and world.

(1) One of our house church members shared with me the insight of Baptist preacher and essayist F.W. Boreham in his article ‘The Candle and the Bird.’ He wrote it for those times when the maintenance of the Christian life and evangelistic testimony seem very difficult, if not impossible. He suggested that such times are not the snuffing out of a candle, but the frightening away of a bird…

The distinction is vital…

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If you extinguish a candle, the act is final: you plunge the room into darkness. But if you startle a bird, the gentle creature flies away and sings its lovely song upon some other bough. Think of the apostles when the Antiochian Jews refused them a hearing – they took the Good News to the receptive Gentiles (Acts 13:44ff). Consider that on the very day (11th November 1793) the French mob tore the Cross from the Notre Dame in Paris, William Carey landed in India and claimed the continent for his Saviour. A contemporary example: while the above-ground, largely persecution-less Church is declining in the West, the persecuted underground Church is thriving in places like China, Iran and North Africa.

(2) Listen to the prophet again in chap. 40 as he focuses our attention on the Creator of all:“‘So – who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?’ says The Holy. Look at the night skies: who do you think made all this? Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name – so magnificent! so powerful! – and never overlooks a single one.Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or whine Israel, saying, ‘GOD has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me?’ Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? GOD doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath (dear me, every time I go for a walk… lol). And he knows everything, inside out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall (look around you). But those who wait upon GOD get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles. They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind!” (v. 25-31/ MSG).

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] In taking the kingdom message to the squatter camps of our metro, I’ve often encountered witchcraft spirits manifesting during teaching and prayer. I didn’t go looking for these things – they came looking for me. Which is common in Africa – and I’ve ministered in Africa quite widely. If you read the books of AE’s Dr. Michael Cassidy, he refers to many such face-to-face encounters with witchcraft and ‘evil supernaturalism’ while conducting evangelistic city-missions in the ‘sophisticated’ cities of Africa. [I recall being confronted by an extremely powerful demon in the middle-class congregation I pastored years ago. A young man approached us for help. He and some cronies had pursued Neo-naziism for some years. When praying over him, he took on the behaviour of a snarling, salivating Nordic wolf-hound, trying to kill us. This demon threw him against walls with such force that his head was covered in blood. After many months of counsel and prayer, he was finally set free].

[2] In the 1990’s, Dr. Ed F. Murphy visited our city to address a pastors’ seminar on ‘spiritual warfare.’ It had a huge effect on those attending, including myself. His handbook Spiritual Warfare is still recognized as one of the most thorough treatments of this controversial subject, building on solid biblical and theological foundations. Others who have written helpfully on this subject include Dr. Kurt Koch, Dr. Merrill Unger and Mark Bubeck [many today agree that Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs and others took spiritual warfare too far some years ago in calling for the overthrowing of national ‘territorial spirits’ via highly specialized prayer-walking tactics when a simple, biblical Gospel-proclamation would have done the trick]. In all these things we must never succumb to over-introspection. Robert Murray M’Cheyne warned long ago that for every one look at sin we should take ten at Christ. My Scottish College Principal used to say that a healthy person doesn’t walk around with a thermometer in his/her mouth all day long!

I leave you with Robin Mark’s inspiring ‘DAYS OF ELIJAH’

THUNDER IN THE DESERT: ‘PREPARE FOR GOD’S GLORIOUS ARRIVAL!’ [Part 1 of 2]

“Thunder in the desert! Prepare for GOD’S arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then GOD’S bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as GOD said!” (Isaiah 40/MSG)

39 Desert Road In A Rain Storm Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images  - iStock

The ‘good news’ prophet, Isaiah, roots his ‘Messages of Comfort’ firmly in the Almighty himself: not in any divine hand-out, but in his PERSON (Is. 40ff). This God had ‘arrived’ in creation, in (and among) his elect Israel, and through his chosen has made manifest his Kingdom purpose for all nations. From a NT perspective, this ‘arrival’ was uniquely ‘fleshed out’ in ‘the Servant of the LORD,’ the ‘Logos of God,’ come among us on earth. We celebrated this a month or two ago: ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son. Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.’ (Jn. 1:1-18; cf. 1 Jn. 1:1-4).

But in another way, this unique Immanuel-GOD continues to arrive among his people, historically and experientially! From time to time, his Spirit visits his straying people to remind them of his sovereign and merciful claims. Historically the Church has spoken of such visits as ‘awakenings’ and ‘revival.’ [Cf. my twin blogs on ‘Revival: Archives/14th & 16th November 2018 (much visited in the last year or so)]

Self portrait by the mirror in nature

God is sovereign in revealing himself to his creatures. However, it necessitates some readiness on our part. I refer to CS Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’: ‘When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others – not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Jesus as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one. You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred – like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.’

From Lewis’s dirty mirrors to Isaiah’s road-engineering works: it appears that in every era God’s people are called to ‘clear the road’ for his glorious arrival/s and times of refreshing. (Is. 40:27-31)

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Our house church research in recent months on ‘the Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ [see my last three blogs] seemed to flow quite naturally into the theme of spiritual revival. Examining OT and NT Scriptures, we discovered a number of ‘stumbling blocks’ needing to be removed in order to pave the way for another divine ‘arrival.’ These large ‘rocks’ have often impeded the Church in her life and mission on planet earth.

First, the rock of DECEPTIVE IDOLATRY… (corporate and individual)

We tend to think of ‘idolatry’ as an OT thing, like the worship of Baal and Molech. We conclude that of course we aren’t as silly as the ancient Israelites (and surrounding nations) who kept succumbing to the worship of inanimate things. However, even a superficial search of the NT reveals many references to believers’ idolatries. Recently Columbia Seminary’s Prof. Walter Brueggemann described ‘Christian’ America as being ‘thick with idolatry!’ He names the idols: mammon, military consumerism, fear, greed, violence, obsession with safety and the relatively unimportant, exceptionalism (America is God’s chosen, her enemies are God’s enemies – we’ve had the same in my country), etc. All these idols are unable to produce life. He submits that the only workable alternative is the biblical meta-narrative of the Gospel, e.g. holiness, neighbourliness, vulnerability and peace-making. These alone give life! [1]

Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) reminded us during the last century in his ‘The Christian Life:’ ‘No unprejudiced reader of the NT can miss the fact that when it speaks of the sinner it has in view almost exclusively not the person outside of the community, but inside it, the Christian. For NT writers the interesting sinner is not the worldly person, but the Christian. Peter, for example, who is not on God’s side and has to be rebuked; Judas who is chosen with the other disciples but betrays the Lord; and the other disciples who need to be reminded to become like little children.’

Two millenia ago, Jesus of Nazareth declared, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword… whoever loves father or mother (son or daughter) more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’ (Mt. 10:34-39/NRSV). Ouch! So even valid earthly relationships can become idolatrous, even the treasure of family must not be allowed to replace the treasure of Jesus and his kingdom (Mt. 13:34-35). How we try to bargain with Jesus: I’ll give you 50% of my life, Lord; on a good day 80%, at a squeeze 90%, but 100%?? Yes, 100%! Ego has to vacate the throne for the King of glory. Oh, how our postmodern society with it’s ‘human rights’ cry rails against such a call! At the end of 2020 Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary published a book, ‘Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.’ A few days ago I read Dr. Philip Jensen’s (Cambridge) critique of it. Trueman gives an account of the revolution of modern thought and culture that has led to the modern idea of the self. This idea of the ‘self’ is essentially a shift from finding order and meaning and purpose in the external world, to one that is defined by the individual, especially in he/she feels. Gone is any recognition of a transcendent God who has created an ordered world and provided guidance about how to live in it. He mentions UK politician Alastair Campbell’s infamous ‘we don’t do God!’ Our world’s frame is immanent, not transcendent [A few days ago, a British ‘Christian OnlyFans’ twenty-two year old female model, earning 150k pounds per month, boldly stated that ‘her religion will never hold her back from stripping half-naked for the cameras!’]. Trueman’s remedy for this sorry state is (1) lament, as expressed in the biblical psalms and (2) immersion in Scripture. The latter, in my opinion, constitutes the most powerful way of learning and thinking and living in a world where God is the decisive agency [This, I may add, in a time when biblical literacy in the largely narcissistic Western Church is at an all-time low]. Jensen points to the rarity of certain significant words in the speech of ‘ordinary Christians,’ e.g. election, covenant, sin, commandment, and judgment. He finally suggests we follow again the Apostle Paul’s cognitive disciplines as expressed in Phil. 4:8.

Every classic Church awakening in history past and present has been characterized by confession and repentance [2]:

(1) I’ve previously referred to Dr. John Sung of China and the awakening of thousands of congregations in China and S.E. Asia during the 1930’s and 40’s. He invariably commenced his message with a call to confess and repent of all idolatry, both corporate and individual. Many of his listeners needed personal healing and and deliverance from the demonic. And if the repentant returned to their old ways, their sicknesses and personal demons returned in even greater force!

(2) The 1950’s East African revival in Rwanda and Uganda was largely based on 1 Jn. 1:5-10’s call to continually ‘walk in the light’ with God and our fellows. Any sin on the part of a believer was immediately confessed, repented of and restitution made where possible, even to the point of returning a stolen packet of sugar! [As a young adult believer I was greatly helped by Norman Grubb’s wonderful little booklet, ‘Continuous Revival,’ based on the lessons of East Africa’s awakening].

(3) Mel Tari in his ‘Like a Mighty Wind relates how during the Indonesian revival of the 1960’s, many believers were blessed with unusual gifts of discernment, enabling them to see their own sins and boldly point out the sins of fellow-believers. One man kept a huge, secret stash of hidden liquor, denying it to the bitter end, despite many loving rebukes and plea’s for repentance. He died soon after reaching the ‘dead-line’ (excuse the pun) set for him by the congregation!

(4) Years ago, I heard American missionary Sammy Tippet relate the story of the 1990’s Romanian revival. The tiny Romanian churches had been praying for spiritual awakening for many years. Some 14 years later, Peter Dugalescu found himself addressing 200,000 mainly atheists gathered in Timisoara’s main square. Following the preaching, the crowd roared repeatedly: ‘There is a God… there is a God… there is a God!’ It’s significant that after this outpouring of the Spirit the Romanian Christians were nicknamed ‘The Repenters!’

Second, the ‘rock’ of UNHOLY ALLIANCES… I plan to deal with this and the ‘rock’ of SINFUL UNBELIEF in part 2, so please join us again!

In the mean time, some encouragement in these difficult times. Few know that the fastest-growing Church today is found in Islamic Iran. It’s an underground, grassroots, youthful and mainly women-led movement! [Cf. YouTube ‘Jesus vs Iran’]. Let me leave you with the story of two young Iranian women (pic below) who introduced hundreds of their inmates to Christ while awaiting execution in Tehran’s Evin Prison. These two were sentenced to death in 2009 for spreading the Christian message from their home. Thank God, they were released after 259 days, following much international prayer and outcry. They had no Bibles in prison, but their lives proclaimed the Good News to fellow captives and guards alike. By now we should know the divine pattern of revival and evangelism (despite the protests of so many comfy Christians): persecution and the preparation of the Bride (Mt. 25:1-13).

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Cf. Michael Cassidy’s wonderful autobiography, ‘Footprints in the African Sand,’ for a wonderful account of South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. Many feared a bloodbath akin to Rwanda’s genocide later the same year when close on a million people were massacred. Due to African Enterprise’s and the South African Church-at-large’s prayerful negotiations behind the scenes, a miracle ensued which stunned a watching world!

[2] In his generally helpful ‘The Naked Gospel,’ many believe Andrew Farley goes too far when virtually dismissing the vital need for confession on the part of NT believers and the Body of Christ. He relegates the Lord’s Prayer’s confession to ‘the old covenant.’ He also, I believe, misreads 1 Jn. 1 and its summons to constantly and experientially fellowship with God and one another, which is the very life-blood of the Church.

FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE – THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (PART 3)

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[Please Refer Parts 1 & 2 for Background]

BEING BORN AGAIN’ OF THE SPIRIT (JN. 3) CAN COINCIDE WITH, OR PRECEDE, ‘THE BAPTISM AND FULLNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’…

E.g. John the Baptizer was ‘filled with the Spirit’ from his birth: Lk. 1:62-80. Saul of Tarsus was ‘filled with the Spirit’ when Christ revealed himself to him on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians: Acts 9:15-19. I’ve already described my own conversion experience which seemed to coincide with my ‘baptism of the Spirit’ and call to preach the Good News of the Kingdom. Some friends and I formed a ‘gospel team,’ preaching and testifying (Salvation Army style) on the city square, witnessing to folk in restaurants, etc: one restaurant-encounter led to the conversion of a young jockey who joined our team. We were as raw as anything, but God seemed to over-rule our immaturity and bless our efforts anyway – he definitely has a sense of humour!

Listen to Dr. Graham Scroggie (1877-1958)[theologian and pastor of Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London] addressing his students: ‘I know that there is a first filling of the Holy Spirit which constitutes a crisis in the life of a man or woman, and life after that can never be the same again. It came to me twenty four years ago. Though I look back with deepest regret over much failure during these years, I know that, in a little room in our home, standing on the edge of Epping Forest, East London, God filled me with His Holy Spirit, and made Christ Master for the first time in my life. Life has never been the same since. May this not be your hour of first experience, as that was mine? You know that God is willing, but, are you?’ [as we can’t contain wind in a box (Jn. 3:5-8), neither (I submit) can we biblical terminology]

THE MAIN PURPOSE OF ‘THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ IS CHRISTIAN WITNESS

Events | Rembembering George Whitefield

The baptism of the Spirit is not a self-promoting, grand-standing, ‘feel good’ experience as so often peddled from post-modern platforms! I recall one very sincere church member who was forever trying to palm off her ‘baptism of the Spirit with tongues’ experience on my wife and others, whether interested or not. One day in her enthusiasm she volunteered to help me with our outreach to the very poor in a nearby shanty-town. She accompanied our little team but couldn’t wait to get away, never volunteering again. I’m not sure how she missed the simple promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!’ (NIV) (cf. Mt. 28:16-20) [1]

We’ve already seen the role of the early disciples in extending Christ’s kingdom wherever they were and went. Church history since then is replete with outstanding examples of evangelism and mission. One could point to the 1860’s awakening under Dr. Andrew Murray (1928-1917) in the Western Cape (S. Africa): it started with a rushing wind and simultaneous prayer of the youth in a church hall – soon many of them made themselves available for mission wherever God should call them. Adults left for countries in Africa, especially Nyasaland (Malawi) – my wife’s distant forebears were part of that movement. Add the evangelization of the early 1900’s Boer POW camps in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Bermuda, St. Helena Island, etc, which in turn spawned missionary volunteers to other parts of the world. Murray’s books on prayer, revival and mission are influential to this very day, all over the world.

I’ve just re-read the 500+ page ‘The Journal Once Lost,’ extracts from the diary of Dr. John Sung (1901-1944), a US chemistry PhD and outstanding evangelist to China and S.E. Asia. ‘Born again’ and powerfully ‘baptized with the Spirit’ in 1927 while in America, he returned to his native China to preach and train up gospel-teams by the hundreds in order to win his nation to Christ. Though suffering a serious post-operative ailment all his life, he prayed for the repentance, healing and exorcisms of tens of thousands wherever he went. Some were even raised from the dead after he laid hands on them.

A house church member has just given me South African-born Dr. Michael Cassidy’s amazing story, ‘Footprints in the African Sand.’ It includes the account of his God-given passion for the cities of Africa, during the 1960’s. I was privileged to meet up with him and his team during a mission at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg in the late ’60’s. Since then I’ve heard him speak at many key conferences. Author and speaker, John Ortberg, has written of him and his teams, ‘Perhaps no other mission agency has had the impact AE has had in the cities of Africa.’ Among other things, Michael and AE were instrumental in the prevention of a bloody civil war in South Africa during the critical first democratic elections of 1994. [2]

In the late 1980’s God led an American named David Bliss to read the works of Andrew Murray. God burdened him to visit South Africa and in particular the town of Wellington where Dr. Murray preached and pastored for many years. David decided to establish a missions training centre in Wellington, in order to stir up Murray’s lost message of prayer, revival and mission. In those days of segregation he befriended a isiXhosa-speaking pastor-intercessor from the Transkei, David Mniki. Together they made a formidable team. We decided to host a missions conference in Port Elizabeth, called ‘Bless the Nations’ (cf. Gen. 12). The conference took off, regular ‘concerts of prayer’ for world missions were held, and a small ‘missions school’ for church members was established which I was privileged to head up. This stir of the Spirit led many congregations in our area, including my own, to instigate short term mission visits in South Africa and beyond. God started to raise up some of the congregational members to undergo further training to serve locally and in Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Thailand, Japan, Peru, etc. Some are still serving in those distant countries. Those annual missions conferences continued for over twenty years, a few years ago taking on a condensed shape but continuing to mobilize folk for missions locally and abroad.

HOW DOES ‘THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ TAKE PLACE IN OUR EXPERIENCE?

If you’re looking for a quick formula, I’m going to disappoint you, but there are some guiding principles. Ds. Riekert Botha, heading up a Bible School in the Western Cape, suggests that the baptism, biblically and historically, has happened in three major ways…

First, through corporate prayer, as illustrated in the Upper Room (Acts 1:4-5) and on the day of Pentecost itself (Acts 2:1-13). Two other great servants of God who have confirmed this approach were Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), New England Congregational theologian and revival preacher, as well as Charles Finney (1792-1875), American Presbyterian and ‘father of modern revivalism.’

Second, through Spirit-anointed preaching: ‘While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers … were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…’ (Acts 10:44-45/Peter at Cornelius’ house). “‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said, ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 11:15-16/Peter at Caesarea). During Englishman George Whitefield’s (1714-1770) powerful preaching in Cambuslang, Scotland, the open air scene was like that of a battle-field, with some 40,000 people lying or kneeling on the ground, crying out to God for salvation.

Third, through the prayerful ‘laying on of hands’ (Acts 8:14-17). The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria: ‘When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simple been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.’ We read of a similar happening when Ananias ‘laid hands’ on Saul of Tarsus, who became the great apostle Paul, sent to the Gentiles (Acts 9:11-19). [NB, in our own time we need to be discerning as to who lays hands on us because of the explosion of charlatan preachers, so-called ‘prophets’ and peddlers of occult spirits. Know the character and fruits of your local leadership/community (Gal. 5:22-25)]. One of our house church members was sharing with my wife how, when visiting a little Anglican Church on the beautiful Southern Cape Coast, she went forward for Communion. The visiting preacher gently laid his hand on her head and asked God’s blessing on her. Immediately, it was as if an electric current ripped through her body. She understood it as her baptism of the Spirit, receiving the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12) at a later point. She has become one of our most mature members, with wonderful gifts of compassion and intercession!

Why do we extend our hands when praying over? | The Feast Posh

THE ‘BAPTISM OF THE SPIRIT’ SHOULD LEAD TO OUR BEING ‘FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT,’ BY SLOW PROCESS OR UNUSUAL HAPPENING, PREPARING THE WAY FOR SPIRITUAL AWAKENING OF THE SAINTS LOCALLY/AROUND THE WORLD…

In closing, I leave you with the words of C.S. Lewis. Christianity ‘is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into the hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be), is I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: is holiness here? Does my conscience move me toward this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular doorkeeper?’ When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house” (‘Mere Christianity’).

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit and ‘speaking in tongues,’ I refer you to F.F. Bruce’s commentary on ‘The Acts of the Apostles,’ Tyndale Press, p. 82. Therein he distinguishes between the glossalia of Acts 2 and that of 1 Cor. 12-14. What is quite interesting is that, during the 1960’s Indonesian Revival on the Island of Timor, ordinary unschooled island folk were heard in gatherings to speak in French, German and Hebrew (Mel Tari/‘Like a Mighty Wind’).

Years ago I heard the account of a Russian fisherman, seriously injured on a trawler off the coast of Namibia. A local padre was asked to visit him. They spent many hours conversing, the fisherman in Russian, and the padre in English. Supernaturally, they could understand one another through that extended interchange. They shared the Good News and prayed together. The sailor’s serious injury was healed and within days he was able to return to his craft and beloved family.

[2] Michael graduated from Cambridge University and Fuller Theological Seminary in California. He has written many books, of which I’ve read most.

FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE! THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT [PART 2]

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THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ IS ACCOMPANIED BY UNUSUAL ASSURANCE, POWER AND JOY…

We’ve already explored this in the life of Jesus: see my previous post and Lk. 4:1-2a, 14-22.

We now turn our attention to the Apostles. Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, ‘the church board’ of that time. This august body is severely rattled by the apostles’ bold proclamation of Christ and healing of a crippled beggar at the temple gate. In response to the Sanhedrin’s charges and full of the Holy Spirit, Peter let loose: “‘Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, I’ll be completely frank with you – we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the one you killed on the cross… by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole… Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can saved, only this one!’ (Acts 4:8-12/MSG). The clergy are transfixed by the apostles’ boldness and certainty. Their fascination deepens when they realized these two were ‘mere laymen’ with no formal education. “They warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John spoke right back, ‘As for us, there’s no question – we can’t keep quiet about what we have seen and heard!’” (v. 18-20). After prayer with their fellow-disciples, ‘the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence… The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them…” (v. 31).

Back to the present. Many in the Body are concluding, against this backdrop of Acts, that a large majority of Western Christians have been ‘saved’ but manifest little, if anything, of the primitive Church’s assurance, confidence and joy in the Holy Spirit. How many of us can whole-heartedly sing ‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!?’

I recommend three remarkable scriptures as a kind of test-case. First Eph. 1:13-14, where the Apostle Paul is carried away with the saints’ ‘Spiritual Blessings in Christ’ (v. 3ff): ‘It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of salvation), found your home free – signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life!’ (MSG). Second, 1 Jn. 5:13-15, where the Apostle John revels in the life of the Son, ‘My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. And how bold and free we then become in his presence…’ (MSG). Third, 1 Pet. 1:8-9, ‘You (the persecuted believers of Asia Minor) love him, although you have not seen him, and you believe in him, although you do not now see him… you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express because you are receiving the salvation of your souls…’ (GNB). C’mon, let’s be honest, where do we witness this today?? Give me an African-style worship any old day – even in dire poverty, believers express their joy in the Lord, their bodies moving and faces shining!) [1]

This is not mind-less enthusiasm. Take the example of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French genius, mathematician, inventor (of a crude but working mechanical calculator in his time) and philosopher.

Blaise Pascal - Biography, Facts and Pictures

Raised a Roman Catholic, Pascal came to an intellectual faith in God. After suffering the loss of his father, he sought a more vital faith in God. He set aside a day to seek him. Nothing happened all day. He prepared for bed, and then it happened beween 10:30 pm and 12:30 am. He penned in his diary, ‘FIRE! GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ, my God and your God. Your God will be my God. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD. He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel. Grandeur of the human soul. Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. I have departed from him: They have forsaken me, the fount of living water. My God, will you leave me? Let me not be separated from him forever. This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one who sent, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified. Let me never be separated from him. He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel. Renunciation, total and sweet. Complete submission to Jesus Christ and my director. Eternal in joy for a day’s exercise on earth. May I not forget your words. Amen!’ He sewed these notes into his jacket-hem, where it was discovered after his death. Our experience of the Spirit may be very different, but have we encountered the Lord in at least something of this dynamic and intimate way, bringing us his glorious assurance, power and joy??

‘THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ IS ACCOMPANIED BY UNUSUAL LOVE…

God imparts his love to his people in abundance! There is a difference between a light drizzle and a mighty down-pour. The apostle Paul writes to the Roman believers concerning the peace, joy and hope following on their ‘justification by faith’: 5:5, ‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us!’ (NIV) This ‘love’ refers in the first place to the love of God for us, not our love for God. It refers to our sense of God’s love for us as his people. Paul probably had in mind Is. 44:3, ‘For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants…’ (W. Sanday & AC Headlam, ICC). The image is that of a cloud-burst, a flash-flood, in a desert-place. I recall a vivid childhood experience of mine, aged 5/6. My father, a police officer, had to write an exam in the nearby Karroo town of Cradock, a very hot and arid part of the East Cape. I begged him to take me along. Providentially he didn’t. Along the way, crossing an absolutely dry river bed, he was caught off guard by a wall of water from a cloudburst in the mountains. This flash-flood carried our family car down-stream for quite a way. He managed to escape – I would have drowned. I have an old photo of the family car sunken in the sand with just the roof protruding. That’s what a flash-flood can do, it’s something overwhelming and unforgettable. Some time or another, perhaps in different ways, every true believer will sense such a flood of God’s love in Christ poured into his/her heart by the Spirit! Have you known that, my friend? [2] [PS, this encounter is not to be confused with the ‘filling of the Holy Spirit’ as commanded in Eph. 5:18ff. The latter, and the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ described in Gal. 5:22ff, refer more to a slower process-experience, as we daily submit ourselves to Christ’s lordship. The Romans experience indicates something that happens to us, even unexpectedly, once-off or from time to time]

The great 19th century American evangelist, DL Moody, having found Christ by faith, desired ‘something more’ from God. One day in NY City he felt so overwhelmed by God’s love, that he felt he would explode – his mind and emotions just couldn’t cope with the glory of God’s love out-poured!

A century earlier, the English evangelist George Whitefield’s journal reveals that, one night, after just six minutes of his preaching, a man in the audience cried out, ‘He has come!’ The people praised God all night. Whitefield went home at midnight and wept at his own vileness and, on the other hand, God’s everlasting love for him.

For the encouragement of the more ‘average believer,’ here’s a little sample of my own experience of God’s gracious Spirit many years ago. I grew up in a very nominal Christian home. In my early teen years I became restless under a creeping awareness of God’s holiness and glory. I began to seek God in a very childlike way. I felt strongly that somehow I needed to please my Maker and earn his favour. One day, on an errand to the corner-store to buy bread, as I was returning home, the truth broke on me in an absolutely overwhelming way. God brought to mind a verse that I had read but not grasped, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…’ (Eph. 2:8). I tell you, I went home ‘walking and leaping and praising God!’ On my arrival, after contemplating God’s revelation to me, I felt totally immersed in the Spirit’s love and power. At age fourteen, I knew, simultaneously with my new birth, an unmistakable call to Christian ministry and preaching the Word. Besides my Bible, I started reading two books: James Hudson Taylor’s epic biography ‘The Man Who Believed God,’ and ‘Teach Yourself Preaching!’ (Since then I’ve often joked that the latter didn’t help my preaching much). With some new-found Christian friends, we started a Sunday School of sorts in a very poor area. My friends and I felt the Lord’s anointing as we reached out to others in different ways. Sadly, at High School, I lost the plot somewhat amid academic and sporting achievements. Following High School I started out on a career as Chemical Engineer. However, within my first year, I was powerfully reminded of my call to ministry. After three years of secular employ and study, I undertook four years of theological training and then went on to pastor four congregations over a period of thirty eight years – until God sovereignly called me out of the institutional Church fourteen years ago. I now teach and strive to enact the kingdom among the poor and via ‘organic house churches,’ roughly patterned on Acts 2:42. Over the years I’ve been privileged to witness to the Gospel on all the continents of the earth, Antarctica excepted, brrrr! Be encouraged, my fellow-pilgrims, what God’s done for others he can do for you!

Please join me again for PART 3 of this series and see Footnotes and hymn below the pic…

GOD IMAGES - These images show you who God really is

FOOTNOTES:

[1] In his book, ‘Joy Unspeakable,’ Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones relates the story of a sceptical woman invited to a packed croft meeting during the Hebrides revival: she could only peek through a window, but the sight of a radiant child’s face shining with the glory of God led to her immediate conversion!

[2] Do yourself a favour and listen to the 1904/5 Welsh revival ‘love song’ attached below, first in Welsh and then in English.

FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE! [THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – PART 1]

A strange topic to write on as we approach Christmas 2020? I guess as perennial as the celebration of Christ’s’ incarnation can be, so it is with Pentecost! As a kind of confirmation, the well-known author Wayne Jacobsen recently posted a blog that resonated with a number of us: it was headed ‘A Fresh Wind is Blowing,’ denoting ‘a shift in the wind of the Spirit.’ In the comments section I noted, as a South African, some positive responses from Africa, although of course not exclusively. Cf. My archives for twin-blogs on ‘Revival’ (Nov. 14 &16, 2018), much frequented during the pandemic by visitors from all over the world, which perhaps confirms this ‘Fresh Wind.’

Photo by Oliver Sju00f6stru00f6m on Pexels.com

‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. HE will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!’ (Mt. 3:11)

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Do you recall the Jerusalem Passover incident when Jesus confronted the temple traders and loan sharks with a leather whip, up-ending their tables and chasing out the stampeding sheep and cattle? ‘Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!’ (Jn. 2:16/MSG). I wonder what Jesus today, tazer-in-hand, would do in the many ‘cheap fire’ dispensing sanctuaries of our world?? Imagine the perspex pulpits, humongous flower arrangements, smoke-machines and anointing-oil jars flying all over the place! Contrast this flaky, superficial stuff with the glorious and powerful baptism of the Spirit, manifested in the early Church, down through Church history and in many unlikely places today…

About three months ago, after careful study of Watchman Nee’s ‘The Normal Christian Life’ (not so ‘normal’ now), one of our house church members, over a number of weeks, expounded the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection for the body today. This study and discussion opened the door for a fresh exploration of ‘The Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ according to Scripture and in the light of Church history. She and I worked on the latter as a joint-venture. We looked at the classic Scripture passages referring to this experience. We dipped into some of the great spiritual revivals of yesterday and in more recent history: this included the 18th century evangelical awakenings in Britain, Germany (Moravians) and North America. We also checked out 19th and 20th century revivals in South Africa, Wales, North Korea, the Hebrides, East Africa, Indonesia, N. America and China. Special mention must be made of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s helpful sermon-series on our topic [1]: what an exciting journey it’s been for our local house church, and via social media with groups in South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong. I made notes along the way, and now share something of our joyful journey together. We pray that these diaries will make a real difference to your personal and corporate walk with the Lord.

John the Baptiser, in preparing the way for Israel’s promised Messiah, cried out in the desert: ‘I baptize you with water in repentance. But after will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…'” (Mt. 3:11) (cf. Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33). In the book of Acts, historian-pneumatologist Luke recalled Joel’s remarkable prophecy (Jl. 2:28-29) and its fulfillment in Acts 2ff: the risen Lord sent his Spirit with wind, fire and the evangel spoken in the many languages of God-fearing Jews from every nation. A fresh reading of Acts 2 works wonders: try and do so in a translation or paraphrase you don’t normally use to get the feel of it.

Herewith a few headings from my notes…

A BAPTISM OF FIRE…

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The image of fire is fascinating. Fire burns, hurting but also cauterizing. Fire purifies: think of the massive gold-smelting pots separating the gold from impurities in gold-producing countries like mine. Fire renews: in the magnificent Western Cape of South Africa our beautiful protea-bearing ‘fynbos’ (perenially earning gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show) needs an annual fire to burn away old stems, twigs and flowers – following good rain, the earth explodes with the most colourful shrubs and magnificent flora!

In another age, the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian assemblies urging them never to ‘quench the Spirit’ or ‘put out his fire,’ e.g. by stubborn unbelief or disobedience (1 Thess. 5:19, 23-24). By contrast many contemporary congregations and leaders remind one of those old-fashioned village fire brigades, armed with buckets and hose-pipes, quenching any semblance of fire!

SOME WARNINGS…

We need to guard against any self-exaltation and manipulation, and especially exalting our private, personal (perhaps very valid) experiences above Scripture.

Furthermore, we must guard against human ‘control’ and Western decorum on the one hand and ecstatic circuses on the other hand. E.g. Paul addressed the spiritual excesses in the matter of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian assembly, yet he obviously recognized many of the Corinthian believers as having been genuinely ‘baptised with the Spirit.’ In my own spiritual journey and early ministry years I must confess that I was a somewhat ‘controlling Calvinist’: this was much sorted out by my marriage to a sweet, spontaneous charismatic girl, lol! Yep, we need that balance between structure and spontaneity, reason and mystery.

Pr. Riekert Botha, from the beautiful Southern Cape, has reminded his radio and YouTube followers that, in many ways, our greatest enemy is not the devil so much as the ‘flesh,’ that ego-part of us that seeks attention ad nauseum. He gives the classic example of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-25: a man who believes, succumbs to materialism and power, only to be summoned by the apostles to repent or die! I.o.w. we have to pursue personal holiness if we are grow spiritually, following the baptism of the Spirit.

My fellow researcher came across A.W. Tozer’s list of a number of subtle ‘self-sins,’ quickly quenching the Spirit’s fire: e.g. self-importance, self-pity, self-defence, egoism, pride, over-sensitivity, resentments, unforgiveness, etc. The marks of true discipleship are clearly indicated by Jesus in his call to self-denial (the ugly self) + daily cross bearing (not a necklace but self-crucifixion) + following our Lord, come what may. One of my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who paid the ultimate price during WW2) often said ‘Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life!’

THE EARLY CHURCH WAS VIBRANT!

There is no life in a graveyard, I promise you. En route to our beautiful sea-front, I pass a graveyard wherein lies our family grave: my parents, my young sister, my brother, and there’s one place left for yours truly! Graveyards are life-less and ‘as silent as the grave’: is this a picture of many a postmodern ‘church?’ The New Zealand blogger, Andrew Strom, wrote recently about how little we understand the darkness (life-lessness) of the present Church today, particularly in the West: he reckons we’ve had a millenium of gross spiritual darkness, not only in the world but in the Church! (My comment: witness the pathetic failures of the pro-Trump ‘prophets:’ you can be sure that they won’t be stoned as in Deut. 13 or rejected as in Jer. 23:9ff).

JESUS OF NAZARETH WAS/IS VIBRANT!

The evangelist Matthew, in writing about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river and temptation in the desert, records “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased‘… Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert…” (Mt. 3:13-17).

The evangelist Luke puts it like this, ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit IN the desert… ‘ (Lk. 4:1-2a). Luke then tells of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me (imagine the consternation of the very correct leaders and members), because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing! All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips…” Note the authority, the power, the courage, the gentleness, the assurance of Jesus’ words! Bonhoeffer spoke often of ‘the life of Jesus’: wherever he is, there is life, wherever he is not, there is no life. How does this reflect on our faith-communities today??

Here’s sincerely hoping you’ll join us again soon for PART 2! Wishing you the joy of Jesus over Christmas and in the New Year!

FOOTNOTE:

[1] I would highly recommend the good Doctor’s ‘Joy Unspeakable,’ criticized by some in Reformed circles but so important for the balance between good teaching and the experiential: Lloyd-Jones rightly speaks out against Reformed churches’ traditionalism, dryness and aridity. He teaches that ‘there is something more’ for the Church, and urges the Reformed Movement to dialogue with Charismatics and vice versa: apostolic ministry has not left Pentecost behind in history! We need reformation and renewal. In this regarded I re-visited once more the 1904/5 Welsh revival, under Evan Roberts. What uplifting stuff! (there is some good material available on YouTube). What is interesting is that this awakening started among the youth, was marked by the baptism of the Spirit, led to assurance, joy and bold witness among the working-class: within a relatively short time, 100,000 individuals in Wales alone had experienced God’s transforming power!

‘I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS’ – REALLY?? [A TRILOGY]

The Apostles’ Creed declares, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins…’ Do we really?? Our house church recently handled this subject over a few Sunday mornings. There seem to be three key yet integrated biblical perspectives on forgiveness: vertical, horizontal and inward.

The Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt) - Wikipedia

[Rembrandt’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’]

FIRST, THE VERTICAL PERSPECTIVE: LK. 15:11-32…

We took a fresh look at the Evangelist Luke’s picture of forgiveness in his renowned ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son.’ In its immediate setting it relates of course to the story of Israel, and Jesus’ repeated confrontation of the religious hierarchy of his day with his explosive GOOD NEWS for all people (Lk. 4:16-30).

Over-familiarity with well-known Bible passages is always dangerous. We need a fresh approach here. Why not read Lk. 15:11ff in a translation or paraphrase different to what you’re used to? In our group we found the NLT and Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message particularly refreshing. I guess interpreting a parable is a little like building a jig-saw puzzle: the little bits are interesting but must never detract from the overall picture. I agree with those who view the traditional title ‘The Prodigal Son’ as a misnomer. I’d suggest ‘The Loving Father.’ Namibian theologian Paul John Isaak is more extravagant, he calls it ‘The Waiting, Running, Embracing, Partying and Kissing Father.’ I like that!

Perusing our text-passage, we noted certain things often overlooked:

  • Lk. 15:11ff is the story of two ‘lost sons:’ the younger brother who, seeking instant gratification (sound familiar?), wanted his share of the farming estate immediately (perhaps he secretly resented his father’s lingering life); and the older brother, who saw his father only as the farm CEO rather than a good dad. He resented his daily farming responsibilities and probably also hoped for his dad’s passing sooner rather than later so he could take over the family business. Furthermore, the older brother considered his sibling ‘lost’ while blind to his own lostness! Self-righteously we so easily write off the ‘lost’ when not really ‘home’ ourselves. Back to the younger son: in the distant country “undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop but no one would give him any. That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.” So he practices his little speech on the way (haven’t we all?). Were his motives pure? Perhaps at that moment he was more troubled by his empty stomach than familial reconciliation… one wonders.
  • And the father? No doubt he’d been deeply hurt by his younger son, but chose to let him go in good hope of his return (many a parent has had to make that difficult decision). However, the young man was always in his heart. “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him (coincidence? I don’t think so). His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling his servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. Were’ going to feast! (South Africans, ‘Yay, we’re going to have a braai!’) We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here – given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!” The older brother, indulging in a good pity-party, refused to join in the lavish welcome-home, resenting his dad and brother. The father went looking for him too (!) and kindly said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours – but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’ Beautiful grace!
  • American Roman Catholic lay-priest and author, Brennan Manning, once commented in a sermon that ‘forgiveness precedes repentance.’ Think about that. Interpreting scripture by scripture, there seem to be contradictions. What is clear in this story is that the father had long forgiven his rebel son, probably from the day the he had left home! Swiss theologian Karl Barth reminded us, ‘Before we existed, before we even thought of Jesus Christ, God’s mercy sought us and found us in him.’ [1]

Very relevant at this point is the famed Henri Nouwen’s encounter with Rembrandt’s 300-year old painting of the Returning Son in the Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Catholic priest and top academic, Nouwen had exchanged academia for service at L’Arche in Toronto, Canada, to serve the mentally challenged. The adaptation was huge. Following a nervous breakdown, Nouwen visited St. Petersburg in Russia and stared at Rembrandt’s masterpiece for hours on end. That experience changed his life forever [2]. He identified first with the younger son, then the older son, and finally was challenged by a colleague to recognize himself in the welcoming father [3]. Btw, did you notice in the painting above the father’s hands portrayed as a male hand and female hand? We know that God is Spirit (not in any dualistic sense), neither male nor female, but mysteriously incorporating both fatherly and motherly characteristics in his self-revelation to Israel and to mankind. Nouwen was deeply impressed by the obvious intimacy between father and son in their embrace. Growing up in the Netherlands in a well-off family, he had from a very early age longed for acceptance and love. He’d asked his father often, ‘Do you love me, father?’ Through a lifetime of searching for intimacy, he finally felt the embrace of his heavenly Father’s love. As a result, he preached often on the theme of ‘God’s Beloved,’ which he saw as the key to our identity. This identity doesn’t lie in our achievements, reputation, performance or possessions. It lies herein: ‘I am God’s Beloved!’ Now do we see ourselves as such?? The implications are life-changing!

The Loving Father invites you and me into Rembrandt’s masterpiece to discover our own identity and story. Whatever he calls us to be/do, let us gratefully and joyfully respond, ‘Yes!’

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Personally I identify with much of John Wesley’s doctrine of ‘Prevenient Grace.’ Cf. YouTube’s ‘Seven Minute Seminary’ and ‘The Biblical Case for Prevenient Grace’ by Brian Shelton. Also ‘John Wesley’s Order of Salvation’ by Dr. Charles Gutenson.
  2. Cf. YouTube’s Sr. Sue Mosteller’s ‘A Painting, A Parable, and My Friend Henri Nouwen.’
  3. See my archives, ‘The Cry for Spiritual Fathers and Mothers,’ 20 and 22/02/13.

In Part 2 below we examine the horizontal and inward perspectives on ‘FORGIVENESS.’ Why not take a short coffee/tea break, and then read on…

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‘I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS!’- REALLY?? [Part 2]

SECOND, THE HORIZONTAL PERSPECTIVE: LK. 11:4

apostles creed | Apostles creed prayer printable puzzles Doug ...

‘Well of course we believe in the forgiveness of sins… after all, we are Christians!’ The early Church knew better, hence the repetition of the Apostles’ Creed. To believe in the horizontal forgiveness of sins is not nearly as easy as first imagined: hence Jesus’ reminder in The Lord’s Prayer, ‘And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ (Lk. 11:4/NLT). There is no ambiguity in that prayer: if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven! ‘There are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own’ (C.S. Lewis). Ouch!

Three illustrations may help here, each hinging on Christ’s divine power from within (Rom. 5:5, etc):

1) Forgiveness won’t happen until we’ve bowed before the Cross of Christ. Sean McDowell, son of apologist Josh McDowell, relates how his dad had an abusive father, which led him (Josh) to atheism. Sean relates how it wasn’t his dad’s exploration of Christian apologetics that led him to Christ and empowered him to forgive his father but bowing at the foot of the Cross as a sinner in need.

2) During WW2, in occupied Holland, Corrie Ten Boom’s family hid Jews from the Nazis in a hidden attic of their Amsterdam home. The family was betrayed by a local, resulting in Corrie and her sister Betsie’s deportation to Ravensbruck concentration camp, where Betsie died due to starvation and ill health. After the war, Corrie returned to Munich to preach the message of forgiveness. Following her message on this theme, one of Betsie’s Nazi guards came to her claiming he had found forgiveness for his crimes against the prisoners but now wanted Corrie personally to forgive him. She froze for a moment, as the memories of Ravensbruck and Betsie’s torturous death flooded back. However, having preached on God’s forgiveness, she knew she had to forgive him even if his confession sounded superficial. After a quick silent prayer, she put out her hand: as she did that, a current of love flowed down her arm, enabling her to grasp his hand and say joyously, ‘I forgive you, brother, with all my heart I forgive you!’ What a witness to the power of the Cross.

Giving Thanks in All Circumstances – Corrie ten Boom ...
Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch savior « The International Raoul ...

3) Let me, with her permission, share the story of our eldest daughter. In her late teens she and a friend visited a large shopping mall. As they got into their vehicle afterwards, four gangsters, out on bail, held them up at knife-point and drove them to a desolate spot on the edge of the city. There they took turns assaulting and raping them. Their attackers drove off, commanding them not to follow them. Somehow they managed to walk to a nearby shop to phone for her help, only to spot their abandoned vehicle across the street with the keys inside. They drove to a suburban clinic where they were met by local police. The culprits were re-arrested, tried and sentenced to 15 years in maximum security. You can imagine the deep trauma of these two girls. We arranged for our daughter to get counseling from a clinical psychologist. During that time she asked us to book her into a tiny beach-front chalet in order to process the trauma during long walks on the sand. Afterward we noticed a definite improvement in her mental and emotional state. Eventually, as a confessing Christian, she deliberately chose to forgive her rapists, for her own and Christ’s sake. Four things motivated her: letting herself and her assailants know that what they did to her was ‘not OK’; letting go her of her many hurts; entrusting the final outcome to God; recognizing the brokenness of the perpetrators that led them to such a crime. I must confess that, as her dad, it took me much longer to heal and to forgive. Looking back my wife and I are so proud of our daughter and the road she has continued to walk with Jesus to this day.

Forgiveness also includes those within the body of Christ, for personal hurts and pain caused. Many thousands of committed believers and good pastors around the world have been deeply hurt by institutional congregations, especially in the West. On the one hand there have been controlling, narcissistic, ambitious and materialistic leaders who have totally subdued and ruined many a congregation. On the other hand there have been, in many congregations, ultra-orthodox folk, traditionalists, legalists, family dynasties, divisive Jezebel-types who have crushed good leadership and their families. My own family has walked this Calvary road. It’s taken years to heal, but by grace today we are whole and healthy, free and joy-filled. If you’ve been hurt by the Body, may I humbly suggest you graciously forgive those who have done so and choose to move on.

In these days of BLM, we also decided as a multi-cultural house church to discuss the relevant scriptures on racism. We were helped by an article by Frank Viola on Eph. 2:11-22. The text is headed, ‘One In Christ.’ The article concludes that each one of us as believers, whether Jew or Gentile, has been created/re-created in God’s image as his unique ‘poiema’ (Eng. ‘poem’), God’s ‘workmanship’ or ‘master-piece.’ The passage reveals Christ as the most unifying person in the universe. Through his Cross he brought about reconciliation between Jew and Gentile who despised each other for millenia. ‘In Christ’ and through new birth from above (Jn. 3), ‘a new creation, race, species and humanity’ has emerged. ‘For HE is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.’ We have seen this message work in our city and in our house churches, where believers of different races and cultures find each other in the ecclesia. In conclusion I’m sure you’d agree that ultimately reconciliation in this present world lies not in the hands of presidents or politicians, but in Jesus alone. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt. 5:9/NRSV).

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‘I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS!’ – REALLY?? [Part 3]

THIRDLY AND BRIEFLY, THE INWARD PERSPECTIVE: JAMES 5:13-20…

[This topic is addressed more fully in my blog ‘How To Really Love Ourselves,’ Archives 04/03/20]

It is critically important that, out of God’s magnificent love for us and a true self-love (cf. Mt. 22:34-40), we also learn to forgive ourselves for what we have regrettably been or done in the past.

We all know of so many who have been wrongfully bullied and hurt by a narcissistic family member or friends or church leaders and members, to the point of despair. Thus we have to set up personal boundaries, cf. Dr.’s Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s classic ‘Boundaries.’ People can appear to be very charming and ‘nice’ on the outside while behind the mask lurks total egoism. Jesus was kind, but at times not very ‘nice’ when he took on the hypocritical clergy of his day. Thus, by grace, we have to rise above self-pity, a victim mentality, self-condemnation and our emotional abuse – recognizing that, at all times, we are without fail ‘the Lord’s Beloved’ (Nouwen).

Jam. 5:13-20 and the practice of its principles are hugely helpful in this matter of forgiveness and healing. In our small groups we have seen the practice of Jam. 5 set many free: those in toxic relationships, others going through a painful divorce, etc [On Jam. 5, one would recommend handling confession on a same-sex basis][1]. Protestants don’t have confessionals, but we do have a great High Priest and kind ecclesia’s to help us heal!

Please see FOOTNOTE below the pic…

 
Prayer 101: How Do I Talk to God?

FOOTNOTE:

1) In the last months here in South Africa we have read of alleged sexual abuses and cruelties committed over many years in a huge ‘mission station’ of many thousands, well-known for revival in years gone by but over the years damaged by legalism and a highly controlling leadership. In my opinion one of the errors was allocating women to a ‘counsellor’ of the opposite sex. If the allegations are found to be true, it should serve as a stern warning to us all.

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