[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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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]


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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[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 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)

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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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[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.