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)

43,564 Road Construction Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images -  iStock

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.

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

  1. A wonderful rich article Erroll, thank you for all the reading, time and effort taken in your life with Jesus to bring your blogs. May we be as clear as a mirror for that Sun/Son to reflect through.

    • It’s a privilege to serve the Lord and one another in some small way, isn’t it Donnalee? Honestly, I’m for ever grateful.

      Yes, a generation of clear mirrors in the Body of Christ!

  2. Hi Erroll, surely we are overdue for another visitation or awakening… or more than that.
    You said, “Every classic Church awakening in history past and present has been characterized by confession and repentance…” Amen. Is it this that God is waiting for? Isaiah cried out, “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down…” He preceded his cry with words of confession and repentance. “O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear. Return, for thy servants’ sake…”
    The need for Him is so great. Beyond words. Oh how we need revival… or more. Let it start in me.

    Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
    Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
    See if there be some wicked way in me;
    Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

    I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
    Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
    Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
    Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

    Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
    Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
    Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
    I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

    O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
    Send a revival, start the work in me;
    Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
    For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

    • Many thanks, Allan, for your affirming and rich comment. I can only say, ‘Amen and Amen.’

      In fact that very Scripture you quoted from Isaiah was mightily used of God in the 1960’s under German missionaries working among the Zulu people of KwaZulu Natal in the N.E. of our country. Sadly, over the years, the leadership tried to preserve the original flame with all kinds of church regulations, so the Mission’s wonderful story has petered out in more recent years. But of course, that does not imply that we can’t once more intercede for another ‘coming down of the Lord’ according to the prophet!

      Yes, revival starts with me also – thanks for the hymn reminder!

      Yours for the glory of Christ.

  3. There is a shortish book (87 pages) ‘Revival Among the Zulus’ by Erlo Stegen, printed by Kwasizabantu Mission Press here in South Africa. I hope this email address is not out of date: mail@ksb.org.za My copy was published in 1998. I wouldn’t know if it is still in print.

    Regards.

    • To some extent I can identify with your feelings, Anna, especially when we consider our present world context which is almost totally relativistic on morals and even anti-Christ. I did address this issue somewhat in Part 2 of my blog on ‘Revival: Some Questions & Submissions’ (16/11/2018 in archives). Part 1 was well-received, but very little feedback on Part 2 which asks what would revival look like TODAY (in our western context).

      In Part 2 of ‘Thunder in the Desert’ I hope to add a perspective which may help a wee bit when tempted to despair about any imminent revival in our part of the world.

      Thanks for your honesty and authenticity, Anna, and appreciation for taking time out to read my blogs in your very busy schedule!

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