‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ (GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 2)

True worshipers learn to focus on the beauty of the Lord. A few years ago, American pastor-author Brian Zahnd wrote an excellent book, ‘Beauty Will Save the World,’ subtitled ‘Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity.’

Brian Zahnd | Facebook

He rightly sees as ‘key’ to Christian witness the Church’s practice of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5). Let me add, how beautiful must be the author of the Beatitudes! (1)

There are many ‘photographs’ of God’s beauty in both the OT and NT:

  • ‘God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, his purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks.’ (A David Psalm, Ps. 36/MSG) (2)
  • Referring to Jesus, the author of Hebrews writes to messianic believing groups considering retreating to Judaism in order to escape persecution from the Romans: ‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days (i.e. Pentecost onwards) he has spoken to us by a (or the) Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…’ (1:1-3/NRSV). Wow! He goes on to warn against ‘neglecting so great a salvation’ and Saviour! (2:3)
  • The apostle Paul commends Christ’s humility and glory to his readers: ‘He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a self-less, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.’ (Phil. 2:6-11/MSG) Small wonder the early Church put these words in hymn form!
  • The evangelist Matthew pictures Jesus and his Kingly reign not only as a ‘hidden treasure in a field’ (13:44) but also as ‘The Pearl of Great Price:’ ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it!’ (13:45-46) My friend, if necessary, in our materialistic world (and Church), sell all you have to possess this unique pearl of inestimable value!
  • The apostle John has ‘the last word’ in the last book of the Bible in his vision of the magnificent, crowned Lamb of God: ‘“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice ‘”Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ … And the four living creatures said ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.’ (Rev. 5:11-14/NRSV).
  • As the poet Ora Rowen (1834-1879) wrote long ago: Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him? Is not thine a captured heart? Chief among ten thousand own Him, Joyful choose the better part!’ We’ll come back to the rest of this poem in Part 3…

To be a true worshiper, even with the sight of such divine beauty in view, remains difficult today because of at least two things: the ‘worldliness’ of our world and the worldliness of our hearts. Idolatrous self-love has exploded in our time and remains a colossal threat to our world and even the Church. It is certainly the problem of society at large today, this ugly enthronement of ego instead of the Peerless One. So pervasive is this spirit, that the apostle Paul warned of its seduction 2000 years ago already: he wrote to Timothy and the churches ‘Don’t be naive… As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.’ (2 Tim. 3:1-5/MSG). French mystic Francois Fenelon gave sage advice to the believer and the Church amid such ugliness: die to yourself (i.e. sinful self: Mk. 8:34; Gal. 2:20), separate yourself from the unnecessary and restless thoughts which grow out of self-love, accept the Cross and you’ll find peace even in the middle of turmoil. Whatever you do, he says, volunteer for your own death and do not push it away! (3) Centuries later the great George Muller of Bristol put it like this,‘There was a day when George Muller died, utterly died to his own opinions, performances, tastes and will, died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval of my brethren and friends, and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.’ Small wonder he lived as he lived and accomplished what he did! Maybe you and I have fallen far short in these critical matters, yet I am encouraged that God knows the intent of our hearts.

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PART 3 coming up in the next few weeks, d.v.

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Zahnd argues, ‘To a generation suspicious of truth claims and unconvinced by moral assertions, beauty has a surprising allure. And everything about Jesus Christ is beautiful! His life, his miracles, his teaching – even his death and certainly his resurrection – are all inimitably beautiful. A Christianity that is deeply enchanted by Christ’s beauty and thus formed and fashioned by this beauty has the opportunity to present to a skeptical and jaded world an aspect of the gospel that has been rare for far too long. Where truth and goodness fail to win an audience, beauty may once captivate and draw those it enchants into the kingdom of saving grace… the story of Jesus Christ is breathtakingly beautiful.’ (p. xv)

(2) David has a sense of humour too – see his ref. to the ‘mouse.’ I recall pioneering house churches in slum shanties built with rusted corrugated iron sheets. In one such, while gathering with the family and children at dusk, mice would run over your feet with no-one freaking out! Once in a while the candle in the tiny room would blow out due to the wind-leaks in the iron sheeting walls. But nothing could interrupt the sweet fellowship around the message of Jesus!

(3) Cf. Fenelon’s ‘The Seeking Heart.’ How I have personally struggled, and continue to do so, with these deeply soul-searching issues the past months… I must say they’re a little easier to contemplate as I approach the last lap of my life! My younger readers, don’t waste as much time as I have in this vital matter…

‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ [GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 1]

Coincidence? Respected fellow-blogger David Bolton (‘Christ-Centred Christianity’) has just commenced a teaching series on ‘Worship,’ simultaneous to our unpacking this vital subject in our local house church. He kindly referred me to T. Austin-Sparks’ (the British evangelist and author, 1888-1971) who stated that ‘Worship is the Critical Issue of the Universe!’ Austin-Sparks refers us to the Bible’s fascinating ‘final utterance’ on worship penned by the Apostle John in the Revelation 21:22 (‘The New Jerusalem’), ‘I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb’ (NRSV). The implications for our/the universe’s worship of God, our ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) and eschatology (doctrine of ‘The Last Things’) are earth-shaking: Christ is our temple on earth and in heaven, and his people, indwelt by his Spirit, are his ‘portable temples’ (Gr. naos = ‘shrine’) in the present world, individually and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16-17 & 6:19). Breath-taking!

(1) AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH FOR ALL TRUE WORSHIPERS…

Our chief calling in life is to worship the only true God! Matthew makes this abundantly clear in his record of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question regarding the greatest commandment: ‘”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This the greatest and first commandment…'” (Mt. 22:37-38). The godly A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) once remarked, ‘My ambition is to love God more than any of my generation!’ By the way, he defined worship thus: ‘to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven.’ Even in his day Tozer was appalled by the superficial corporate ‘worship’ taking place in many churches – how much more we in this day of mega-churches and smaller versions in our egoistic ‘all about ME’ society!

Worship simply must become the focus of our life. We’re all aware of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy (!) him forever.’ The Church Father Augustine wrote, ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’ In the ‘Good News According to Paul,’ i.e. his Roman Letter, the Apostle commences with mankind’s innate need to worship someone or something (Rom. 1:18-32). In a nutshell, God has made himself known to every human being: via his creation, humanity’s conscience and supremely through the revelation of his Son born into the world. However, down the ages, humankind has chosen not to honour God or give him thanks, exchanging the splendour of the immortal God for images of humans, birds, animals or reptiles… they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is to be praised forever!

Today still, people will exchange the liberty of Christ in worship for the bondage of religion and religious acts. It has been pointed out that one of the biggest problems facing the Church in the past and today is the externalizing of worship (cf. David Bolton’s latest blog), i.e. relegating worship to a particular time, place, ritual (e.g. the eating of/abstinence of certain foods), etc. In the 1960’s a genuine spiritual revival broke out in Kwazulu-Natal Province. There were conversions aplenty, healings, exorcisms, etc. I visited the Mission a number of times in its earlier years. But gradually, over the years, a hierarchical and legalistic structure overtook the life of Christ, even to the extent of persecuting those who left the group and sadly, reported instances of sexual abuse. I believe that another deception in our time has come via the Hebrew Roots Movement, obsessed with the Torah, Jewish ceremonies and diet, etc – I’ve mentioned this life-sapping heresy a number of times in recent years. Now we are not saying we can’t make use of Christian symbols, such as the Cross, in our worship. We are simply saying that worship is essentially an inward thing, a matter of mind and heart. If anybody made this abundantly clear it was Jesus himself in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, as recorded in Jn. 4:19-24: “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'” Madame Guyon (1648-1717) (dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church for ‘heresy’ and imprisoned by the King of France in her latter years) defined worship as essentially being about God’s holy and delightful presence: she wrote of this in a little poem, Content:

‘My Lord, how full of sweet content,

I pass my years of banishment!

Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,

In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea;

Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,

In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea!’

In all this, let’s not neglect to appreciate how much our Almighty Father longs for our worship! ‘The Father seeks such to worship him…’ (see Jn. 4 above). Contemplating this, my mind went the Parable of the Prodigal Son (I prefer to call it ‘The Story of the Waiting Father’), in Lk. 15:11ff: “So he (the lost son) set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him…” (v. 20). In our retirement village, two doors away, there is an elderly lady always on the look-out for her visiting daughter. I park my ancient SUV under a car-park tree in front of her cottage. Often, on hearing the sound of its rather noisy diesel engine, she’ll peep through her door or bedroom curtains – could it perhaps be her daughter’s car?? Coming back to the lost son, I can imagine the Father looking out for me and thinking to himself, ‘I wonder if Erroll’s coming to visit today? I wonder if he’ll make time today, just for me??’ And so he looks for your intimacy as well, on a daily basis, no matter where or what time or under what circumstances! Know that however faltering, it’s infinitely valued and enjoyed by our God and Father!

Until next time, d.v, for PART 2…









THE ROAD TO RESTFULNESS

[Matthew’s Sermon On The Mount Venue Today – Overlooking the Sea of Galilee]

PROPOSAL: THE ROAD TO RESTFULNESS LIES VIA MEEKNESS

We surely all desire true restfulness in these days of great restlessness, right?? Please patiently track with me as I unpack this biblical principle and its implementation…

(1) Our first key-scripture is Mt. 5:5/NRSV, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ This forms part of Jesus’ radical ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ more particularly his ‘Beatitudes.’

Perhaps we did not realize that these words first occur in the OT and in David’s Ps. 37:11, ‘But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.’ It’s worth reading the preceding verses as they constitute a build-up to this conclusion. Someone has suggested that ‘meekness’ in this psalm may be summarized as ‘humble dependence on God the Father with nil arrogance toward our neighbour’ – I like that…

The Beatitudes capture and express the essential kingdom-life of Jesus, which we are called to ingest and digest and display on our earthly journey, by the empowering of his life within. They proceed from the fullness of the Godhead, were perfectly embodied in Jesus’ person and actions, and are are now urged upon all Jesus’s followers. In Mt. 5 Jesus’ teachings are aimed at Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, while in Lk. 6 they seem aimed at kingdom ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders,’ i.e. anyone who would follow him. On this it is interesting to read Dallas Willard’s ‘take’ on the Beatitudes, and his definition of a disciple as an ‘apprentice’ [1] – no matter how long we’ve been serving Jesus, we shall always remain apprentices/learners, even to the end! Also, bear in mind that when the Bible speaks of ‘meekness’ it does not imply ‘weakness’ (‘remember the children’s hymn, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’??), in fact it requires the utmost strength and self-control under the mighty power of Christ, indwelling his people!

Matthew’s and Luke’s ‘meek’ is like a many-faceted diamond, waiting to be studied from different angles. It has been variously translated, often substituting ‘humble’ for ‘meek’ (e.g. the NLT). ‘Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth’ (CEB). ‘The meek and lowly are fortunate! For the the whole wide world belongs to them!’ (LB) ‘You’re blessed when you’re content with who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that cannot be bought!’ (MSG paraphrase). It’s worthwhile pointing out that ‘blessed’ means more than ‘happy’ (makarios): in Luke 6 it can even be rendered ‘lucky’ in the sense of being fortunate. We all know that happiness can vary according to our mood and circumstances – ‘blessed’ really refers to the believer’s ultimate well-being, to that distinctive spiritual enjoyment shared only by those who share God’s life in Christ.

(2) Our second key-scripture is Mt. 11:28-30/KJV, ‘Come to Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’ These words follow on Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving to the Father in Mt. 11:25ff.

Mt. 11 beautifully clarifies that it is meekness that leads to restfulness! We see these twin-graces amply manifested, throughout the NT, in the person and attitudes and actions of Jesus. Here Matthew is addressing Jesus’ disciples who were struggling with the yoke of the Pharisees’ legalistic teaching (cf. E. Peterson’s paraphrase in his ‘The Message’) or burdened under the yoke of hardships of different kinds. Matthew promises that all who come to Jesus will find in him both a personal relationship and relief from burdens that would ultimately crush them. Henceforth any follower of Jesus is not called to do and perform in order to find acceptance and rest in Christ, but fully rest in him and his unfailing companionship. What an unspeakable blessing, as many saints and hymn writers have testified over the ages!

Note also, for the apprentice of Jesus, it’s not a matter of caring about ‘greatness’ in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. Meekness means not being fooled by ourselves and not worrying about what the ‘world’ thinks/says of us – as long as the Lord himself is pleased with us. No longer do we have to defend ourselves, but rest happily in God’s defence of us (cf. Rom. 12:14-21): note, any un-forgiveness or anger or bitterness toward others stirs up restlessness rather than restfulness! Meekness means no more pretence, artificiality and hyprocisy. Every believer and every Christian leader needs to seriously grapple with these issues – authenticity (a rare gem in today’s ecclesia) will always come to our rescue and bring us peace in the midst of the battle.

(3) Finally, some personal application…

a) Meekness means becoming like trusting ‘little children.’ The spiritual and ethical standards are so high that to live them out meekly in Christ’s kingdom at present is well-nigh impossible, except by the very Christ-life within us!

b) Meekness demands ‘moment by moment’ surrender to Jesus our Saviour and Lord. You may recall Dr. Andrew Murray’s favourite convention song, ‘Moment by moment I’m kept in his love, Moment by moment I’ve life from above, Moment by moment till glory doth shine, Moment by moment, O Lord I am Thine!’

c) Meekness demands a radical faith in Christ’s gracious acceptance of our surrender. He shelters us under the wings of his love. I believe it was Wayne Jacobsen who related the story of a fireman damping down smouldering stumps after a ravaging fire. He saw a black lump before him, kicked at it with his boot, only to reveal a mother-hen burnt to death but from under her wings her little chicks appeared, safe and sound!! That’s a picture of Calvary, of Calvary atonement and love. That doesn’t imply licence on our part to live as we please, but inspires us to a life of eternal gratitude to Jesus and trust in his sovereign love!

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Cf. Dallas Willard’s classic, ‘The Divine Conspiracy.’

[2] I found Allan Halton’s blog on Mt. 11:28ff, ‘The Easy Yoke,’ insightful. Well worth a visit: he blogs under ‘The Mending Feast.’

FOLLOWING HARD AFTER GOD

[In these days of religious pluralism, let me say that by ‘GOD’ I mean the unique, Triune One who has revealed himself uniquely in the Bible and Person of Jesus Christ: see my critique of universalism in my Archives, dated 25/07/20]

man in black crew neck t-shirt standing on street during daytime

In our House Church we recently unpacked the phrase ‘FOLLOWING AFTER GOD’ [A. W. Tozer] from James 4:1-10 and Psalm 63:1-8…

(1) Let’s start with the JAMES 4 PASSAGE. In the light thereof, too many followers of Jesus in today’s world are ‘following hard after their own desires!’ (of course, it was so in James’s time also). In v. 1ff and 4ff James rebukes his readers’ selling-out of their hard-won faith and surrendering to a thoroughly ‘worldly’ spirit: ‘What is the source of conflict among you? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have… You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?’ (CEB). He lists their self-sins: covetousness, jealousy, selfish prayers, pride, self-aggrandizement, etc. He points out these inevitably end in conflict! He mentions their spiritual adultery with the world whose spirit is anti-Christ. It struck me how across the world today so many Christians have bought into the same sense of ‘entitlement’ found in a largely GOD-LESS world (‘I have my rights!’), without a corresponding sense of responsibility toward our neighbour. We’re very good at grabbing things but not so good at sharing them. James calls his readers to single-mindedness amid the many inevitable trials that come our way. God’s blessings are certainly not for the spineless and double-minded, as is made clear in 1:2-8, ‘Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.’ (1) Many believers, in life and prayer and witness, are like intermittent car indicator-lights!

The apostle calls his readers to habitually come close to God, in the words of our blog-title to ‘follow hard after God!’ ‘Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more graceCome near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts you double-minded . Cry out in sorrow, mourn and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up’ (v. 5b-10) (2). This coming to God and following hard after him is a serious business! I love watching track-athletes and seeing the runners being stretched to the limit by the pace-setter. They try to stick to him/her as closely as they can. When the pace-setter peels off to the right, the participants push as hard as they can for the finish line to take the prize. That’s a parable for us. We strive for perfection (Mt. 5:48), even if we don’t always attain it – it’s the intention that’s all-important.

(2) Let’s go to the PSALTER PASSAGE IN PS. 63. It’s a David Song, composed while pursued (with his motley crew) by King Saul and Israel’s army, right into the heart of the Judean desert, where the poet and his men hide in caves, in danger of their very life.

The southern Judean desert area near the Dead Sea and Masada is not named Jeshimon, i.e.’desolation,’ for nothing – some years ago my wife and I were privileged to visit there. My South African followers will know of Graaff Reinet’s towering rocky cliffs overlooking the ‘Valley of Desolation.’ Imagine the Judean desert’s summer heat, bare rocks everywhere, with caves the only shelter. In one little valley the desolation is broken by a thin green ribbon of vegetation downstream of the fountain of Engedi, with its cool stream and beautiful little waterfall in which visitors splash and keep cool, children especially. Back to David and his parched, frightened men as described in Ps. 63:1ff and climaxing in v. 8. He cries out ‘God! My God! It’s you – I search for you! My whole being thirsts for you! My body desires you in a dry and tired land, no water anywhere… My lips praise you because your faithful love is better than life itself! So I will bless you as long as I’m alive… I’m fully satisfied – as with a rich dinner… you’ve been a help to me and I shout for joy in the protection of your wings. My whole being clings to you; your strong hand upholds me…’ (CEB). In the KJV and ASV v. 8 translates, ‘My soul followeth hard after Thee…’ In the Afrikaans Bible, ‘Ek bly altyd naby U!’ NRSV, ‘My soul cleaves to you.’ MSG, ‘I hold on to you for dear life…’ Btw, in Ps. 73:28 Asaph determines, ‘It’s good for me to be near God.’ I.o.w. ‘satisfying fullness’ is found in God and in him alone! Can you testify of that, my reader? Can I??

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A.W. Tozer wrote brilliantly concerning this topic in his‘The Pursuit of God,’ ‘I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.’

As an example of this ‘holy desire’ Tozer quotes one of F.W. Faber’s hymns…

‘Only to sit and think of God,

O what a joy it is!

To think the thought, to breathe the Name;

Earth has no higher bliss.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!

What rapture will it be,

Prostrate before Thy throne to lie

And gaze and gaze on Thee!’

According to Tozer, Faber’s ‘love for the Person of Christ was so intense that it threatened to consume him; it burned within him as a sweet and holy madness and flowed from his lips like molten gold.’

HOW DO WE IMPLEMENT this ‘FOLLOWING HARD AFTER GOD??’ I would suggest three things…

By grace-led obedience. The essence of sin is unbelief and disobedience – what we need to strive after are faith and obedience (cf. The Letters of James and Hebrews).

By full consecration. So many believers today are happy simply to be on the gravy-train to ‘heaven.’ If you’ve never responded to the call of Christ, I plead with you to do so today, entrusting yourself to him in child-like faith. Back-slidden believer, will following Jesus cost you? Of course, it cost Christ everything! Jam. 4:7 reminds us,‘Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you…’ Our enemy will fight us every step of the way, even to our death-bed – but with Christ within, we shall overcome! (cf. Eph. 6:10ff)

By child-like reliance. The pursuit of God is incredibly hard, yet delightfully easy! How come?? I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Mt. 11:28-30 where, having spoken of his intimate relationship with the Father and how his wisdom is hidden from the wise and intelligent but revealed to ‘babies,’ he says ‘Come to Me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light!’ (Mt. 11:28-30/CEB).

We made a call in our House Church for folk to wholeheartedly pursue God. The result was heart-felt prayer and tears on the part of quite a few. I suggested they write the date of this new consecration in their Bibles, a constant reminder of their intent. Since then we’ve noticed a definite difference! If so moved by the Spirit of God, won’t you join us and many across the globe in this demanding but happy and satisfying pursuit of God?? If you so wish (no pressure), you may want to indicate your consecration under comments.

[PS. My geriatric computer needs to be replaced. This will involve a process. If I don’t respond to any comments immediately, I trust you’ll understand why. Thank you]

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard’s ‘Purity of Heart’ is well worth a read on this point of single-mindedness.

(2) Can you imagine a sermon from these verses (the weeping and penitence ones) preached from our pulpits today!? Some post-modern Western Christian teachers claim that believers only have to repent once. Cf. Andrew Farley’s ‘The Naked Gospel.’ Cf. Mt. 6:12, 1 Jn. 1, Psalm 51, etc. Small wonder the Church at large, particularly in the Western World, is so weak and ineffective in so many ways!

Pursuing God by Margaret Feinberg | Streaming Video Bible Study | Study  Gateway

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)

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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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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.