NO ORDINARY WAR! [PARTS 1 & 2]

The Roman Centurion, Soldier, Armor, Military

War, Refugees, Children, Help, Suffering, Poverty

 

There are wars everywhere, conventional and unconventional. I have just finished Duncan Larcombe’s biography on Prince Harry which describes his participation in the Afghanistan war against Taliban insurgents and the latter’s use of ‘Improvised Explosive Devices’ and anti-tank mines which at times wreaked havoc among the British forces. On an unseen spiritual level, believers and Jesus-communities world-wide are waging no ordinary war, defensively and offensively [1]. This is no church-picnic, but an ‘armed struggle’ against the most powerful and evil forces in Jesus’ name.

Why this topic? For one thing, in our local house churches, individually and corporately, we seem to have recently suffered one vicious blow after the other. However, by grace, we are coming through it all ‘more than conquerors’ through Christ our King, testifying of God’s hesed, i.e. ‘steadfast love.’ In the view of this local onslaught, and much worse suffered by believers around the world, we decided to take another look at Eph. 6:10-20, one of the classic passages on spiritual warfare. Our mutual discussion brought much revelation and encouragement.

Before we get to Eph. 6, we need to peruse its OT context. The OT is clear about the fact that, in this universal war against evil, GOD himself is the triumphant Warrior-King. He himself has put on ‘the full armour’ and taken up the sword, and therefore the outcome for his people is assured! [2]. In his fight against Israel’s enemies (Babylon, etc), he ‘donned’ the ‘breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation’ (Is. 59:17). He had his ‘feet shod’ with the Good News of Redemption (Is. 52:7) and took up the ‘sword of his Word’ (Is. 49:1ff). Prov. 30:5 in turn describes God as a ‘shield’ to those who take refuge in him. This was and is one innately omnipotent and loving God!

Next we note the general context of Paul’s circular Letter to the Ephesian and surrounding ekklesiae of Asia Minor. The NT Jewish and Gentile world addressed by Jesus and the apostles was saturated with religious traditionalism, legalism, idolatry (Ephesus hosted the renowned virginity-goddess Astarte), the occult and emperor-worship. Imagine the cost of the early Church’s baptismal confession, JESUS is LORD!’ Furthermore, one can’t understand Eph. 6 and the call to warfare without recognizing the amazing foundation Paul laid in chap.’s 1-3. Those chapters are all about Christ, believers’ union with him by faith, their ‘position in Christ,’ and much more. So much so, that Paul prays for already-enlightened believers to be enlightened even more, in order that they may grasp just ‘something’ of the fullness of Christ’s person, life, death and risen-ness. Any reading of these chapters should have us marching up and down, belting out ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall; Bring forth the royal diadem, And crown Him Lord of all!’ (Tune Diadem). In short, we need to be saturated with Eph. 1-3 before we can tackle 6:10ff…

To Eph. 6:10ff and ‘The Armour of God’ then. Paul, God’s beloved jail-bird, writes from a Roman prison, probably chained to a Roman centurion, hence his detailed battle-dress description. I love JB Phillips’ paraphrase from yester-year: ‘In conclusion be strong – not in yourselves but in the Lord… Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil… you must wear the whole armour of God (my emphasis) that you may be able to resist in the day of evil power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then…’ (note all the ‘stand’s!’). You see, we’re in a battle to the end. I recall old cassette-tape versions of the renowned Welsh expository preacher of Westminster Chapel, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Eph. 6:10ff. With biblical anointing he reminded his audience of this ‘battle to the death,’ and that the devil would ‘fight us to our very last breath!’ As to the reality of the devil, William Barclay quoted R.L. Stevenson, ‘You know the Caledonian Railway Station in Edinburgh? One cold, east windy morning, I met Satan there…’ I recall similar experiences over the years, one in a KwaZulu-Natal town near an old Hindu temple and the other in a Central China city saturated with Buddha statuettes for sale and a huge Muslim mosque erected in 700 AD [3].

The apostle goes on to exhort us, individually and corporately, to put on each piece of armour:  including the ‘shield of faith’ with which we can ‘extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one,’ ‘the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God’ (an instrument of defence and attack), etc. Note, my purpose in this blog is not to go into the detail of the individual armour-pieces but rather just to put some broad brush-strokes on the canvas of spiritual warfare. Suffice it to say, ultimately our best counter to evil is to ‘put on Christ himself ‘ (Eph. 4:17ff), i.e. to exchange all that is selfish and destructive in our life for Christ and his character ‘by faith.’ In this way we are sure to conquer! Two things need to be noted here, but why not take a quick coffee break, or come back tomorrow while the first part of this blog is still fresh in your mind, or just push on right now… I plan to conclude briefly with some experiential and practical pointers…

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Two important points, then some practical applications…

  • First, we need to distinguish between biblical triumphalism (i.e. ‘we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us’ – btw, this is the theme of John’s ‘The Revelation!’) and populist triumphalism. The NT is replete with statements that Christ has triumphed over the powers, via his cross and resurrection. ‘You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Col. 2:13-15; cf. Rom. 8:38-39). Years ago we had the ‘spiritual warfare’ movement headed up by all kinds of ‘prophets’ and ‘generals.’ Soon their histrionic foot-soldiers adopted the habit of screaming at every enemy in sight in ‘Jeeeezus name,’ the louder the better, declaring their downfall here, there and everywhere! (sadly, it’s still common practice today – note Jude’s caution in v. 8-10 against ‘false teachers’). At that time the congregation I was pastoring (btw, I’m no longer into ‘church as we know it’) sent church-planters to an unreached tribe among the Peruvian Quechua’s. When the missionary couple asked for advice from a sage and experienced leader in spiritual warfare as to how to approach their mammoth task, he advised them to ‘just preach the Gospel!’ Wasn’t that Jesus’ approach?? (cf. Lk. 4:18-19). I like that! And I’m not minimizing the critical role of intercession in mission in any way.
  • Eph. 6:18-20 uses the word ‘pray’ and ‘prayer’ repeatedly, hence its importance in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. Such intercession must be ‘in Christ’: constant, intense and community-based. One of the best missionary biographies I’ve read is ‘Mountain Rain,’ the story of J.O. Fraser, missionary to the animist Lisu mountain tribes of Yunnan Province, China. It tells how he gave up a promising engineering and music career, as well as great family riches at age 22, to plant a church among the unreached Lisu. In doing so, he had to overcome monstrous physical, emotional and spiritual battles – at the beginning and along the way. Despite these hardships he prayed on, with a strong support-base of prayer back in England. Just as he was about to give up and leave the tribe, God intervened miraculously and the Lisu experienced a powerful and lasting revival!

Five, practical ‘knows’ in summary…

  1. Know your enemy. I recall a house church brother who, against advice, insisted on engaging in ‘deliverance ministry’ on his own (I believe you need a team of mature and prayerful believers for such encounters, which, btw, you don’t go looking for!). At more or less the same time he was engaging in his power-trip, his wife ‘fell’ for a business colleague, their marriage broke up, he re-married and then sadly (though a fitness fanatic) died of a heart attack in his early fifties. Now I’m not into ‘fear mongering,’ but simply remind us all that our enemy is extremely cunning and will take advantage of any obvious ‘chink in our armour,’ in this brother’s case a wobbly marriage. The enemy is no easily-recognized boogey-man but parades as an ‘angel of light’ according to 2 Cor. 11:14-15 (Paul exposing false apostles), who will exploit any armour-chink to further his destructive cause on earth.
  2. Know your Christ. Know him better and better. Ultimately the Christian life is not a set of rules or even principles (as many popular preachers would have us believe) but a life ‘in Christ!’ Our faith is in the risen Christ who has joined us to himself and indwells us as his temple on earth. So let’s get the balance right. The saintly Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, used to say, ‘For every one look at sin take ten looks at Christ!’ (my down-to-earth Scottish College Principal often quipped that a healthy Christian doesn’t walk around all day with a thermometer in his/her mouth!). T. Austin-Sparks, the English author and evangelist once went to see F.B. Meyer, the renowned British Baptist pastor and promoter of the ‘deeper life.’ When he arrived, Meyer was not immediately available and so asked him to wait in his study. Austin-Sparks noticed a plaque with two golden words, LOOK DOWN. When Meyer arrived, his visitor asked if the plaque shouldn’t read, LOOK UP? The pastor replied, ‘It’s all a question of position. If you are in Christ, you are seated with him in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3) and you look down. But if you are under the situation, the only thing you can do is look up…’ Know your Christ and your position in him.
  3. Know yourself. It’s helpful to know your personality type, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. Seek to be as transparent as possible with God and your fellow-believers [3]. Dr. Lloyd-Jones also preached passionately about the importance of the believer’s ‘inner man’ (Eph. 3:16/KJV). By that he meant that quiet, unruffled place deep within, where Christ rules with peace that passes understanding.
  4. Know your ekklesia. ‘Church’ is a misnomer. Multitudes across the globe are discovering small, organic house ekklesiae or micro-communities. In these learn to know each other well (impossible in larger groups), pray for one another, encourage one another, exhort one another, forgive one another [4].
  5. Know your Bible. Remember how Jesus triumphed in the desert over his arch-enemy (Mt. 4:1-11). At this time we daren’t assume biblical literacy among most ‘evangelical Christians.’ May we prove exceptional!

Thanks for your great patience, dear reader, and may God Almighty use us all to his glory, as his kingdom comes here on earth as it is in heaven. And remember, the ultimate outcome of the battle is assured!!

[If you have a moment more, please peruse the footnotes below]

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] ‘While those who follow Jesus primarily to show the world what it looks like when Jesus is Lord by taking care of one another in the ekklesia, Jesus-followers are also to demonstrate the kingdom by doing good works for the lost. To remove this aspect of the kingdom turns the ekklesia into a bless me club, a holy huddle of those who care only for their own and are dismissive towards the rest of the world for whom Jesus died. Whenever this happens, the ekklesia replays the sin of ancient Israel… Israel retained God’s blessing for herself, turning it’s windows into mirrors.’ (F. Viola’s Insurgence, p. 334) PS, today’s war-mongering ‘Christians’ horrify me. Let’s learn from the Anabaptists, ‘the Reformers’ Step-Children.’

[2] This assurance came to me very powerfully yet sweetly one recent morning from 2.30 am (when under normal circumstances a few cups of coffee and wild horses wouldn’t wake me) until 6.30 am! God is so gracious…

[3] If you’re somewhat taken aback by my thinking on demonology, I can only say that I live in Africa where demon-possession and oppression are perhaps more overt. I found the same in South America, the Far East, etc. On another note, I’m part of a nation-wide network of organic house churches in South Africa, and a well-educated and mature believer indicated in a recent chat that it’s her experience and conviction that behind much of racism, in our country (!) and world-wide, sit powerful demonic forces. Think of it, if you were the enemy, how would you go about destroying societies and nations, tearing them in tatters? I submit that one of our satan’s favourite tools in his rather large toolbox must be hatred and racism. How desperately the Church-universal needs to have her feet shod with the Good News of Peace in these momentous days! (Is. 52:7; Eph. 6:15). Reading the hopeful autobiography of Anglican archbishop Thabo Makgoba, ‘Faith & Courage,’ reminds me of how far we still have to go in my beloved country. The wise Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber (1878-1965), advises one and all: Stop relating to others as I-It, but as I-Thou. We must learn to recognize the image of God in ever person.’

[4] There is a secular, psychological model known as Johari’s Window. It depicts our personality in terms of a window made up of different window panes. Some are transparent, some darker, and one is opaque. Watch out for the latter. Though extremely painful, ask a trusted and mature believer to gently (!) expose your ‘blind spots.’ I have seen the evil one exploit that dark pane, bringing great pain. Returning to Buber, ‘It is also true that we must learn to recognize our own potential for evil… so we can recognize those behaviors in ourselves and others. It is possible to critique observable behaviors without demonizing the sacredness and potential for good.’

[5] I hesitate to share the following, but just maybe, it’ll help some fellow-leader somewhere in the world? In my last traditional congregation, I had to do with a heavily demon-possessed young adult who had indulged in Neo-Naziism and other occult practices. On his request for release, as we prayed, he would often present as a vicious wolf, snarling and salivating, charging at me and our prayer-team. His deliverance took a year or two of emotionally-draining counseling and prayer. His principal demon would threaten to tear apart our congregation (that’s what ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ does). Our team responded that he couldn’t do that. Sadly some years later, there was a division within that congregation, and I often wondered why? A thought crossed my mind:  while the team was walking closely with the Lord, some immature believers in the congregation were not (a few ‘Jezebels,’ male and female?). They had apparently become ‘lightning-rods’ for the devil to strike (pardon the mixed metaphors). I’m not being dogmatic here, and theologically it puzzles me [cf my blog archives, The Case for Good Theology]. Was/is this a feasible explanation? Just wondering…

 

 

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CHRISTIAN CONFIDENCE IN AN AGE OF ANXIETY [1 & 2]

[‘My heart is confident in you, O God: my heart is confident!’ Ps. 57:7, NLT]

I was struck by this verse in my meditation on the Psalms recently. It led me to thinking about ‘Christian Confidence in An Age of Anxiety,’ surely relevant to us all. I’ll treat it in two parts, because the topic is wide-ranging.

My wife and I have in the past years and months faced several crises: acute clinical depression (1993), near-death experiences (September 2017 & June 2018), and most recently down-scaling from our spacious family home of 36 years to a one-bedroomed cottage. Each trauma has resulted in a loss of personal confidence, even as committed Jesus-followers. No doubt many of you have been there and experienced worse: bereavement, retrenchment, divorce, dread-disease, etc. I recently re-read Murdo McDonald’s little gem, The Need to Believe. It was first published in the 1960’s and the opening chapter is entitled ‘An Age of Anxiety!’ Even more so now! Every second country is facing political upheaval, economic crisis, gun-violence, societal problems, subliminal guilt issues [1] and questions about the purpose of life (our youth especially). Anxiety abounds in the lives of sports and other celebrities. British Lions rugby superstar Jonny Wilkinson, after booting England to World Cup success, was left totally depressed. The All Blacks’ Sir John Kirwan had to grapple with huge anxiety at the height of his playing days. In my own country just about every other month we read of some music or stage star committing suicide.

Ps. 57 is a fairly typical David-song, composed for worship purposes. This particular song was sung by him and his motley crew while fleeing from King Saul of Israel. They sheltered in mountain refuges: the cave of Adullam in Judah (1 Sam. 22) and Engedi west of the Dead Sea, etc.

  • Verses 1ff exult repeatedly in ‘the mercy of God,’ a common theme in David’s writings. He sees ‘God Most High’ in terms of a great mountain, providing safe shelter from the physical and verbal attacks of his enemies (v.4).
  • Verse 7 echoes David’s confidence in God alone: My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast…’ (NIV). As a result he’s able to sing and make music from his heart (v. 8-11). He writes of ‘awakening the dawn’ with song: in my own case only a strong cup of coffee or two will perhaps persuade me to do the same! David continues, ‘I will praise you among the nations, O Lord… I will sing of you among the peoples (not just Israel)… For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth!’ Wow!! [2]

Ps. 57 very naturally connects with Moses’ song in Deut. 32, reciting God’s goodnesses to Israel even in the face of her repeated rebellion and idolatry. The OT as a whole is replete with Yahweh’s tender love over against the pagan idols’ extreme cruelty: consider the prophets of Baal hysterically cutting themselves in honour of their sleeping idol (1 Sam. 18) or Molech’s flaming mouth devouring the bodies of infants cast into it!

  • Deut. 32:1-4 recall the LORD’s ‘loving teachings which fell on his people like gentle dew, watering the grass and tender plants.’
  • V. 3ff echo Ps. 57’s theme: ‘I will proclaim the name of the LORD, Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, & all his ways are just.’
  • V. 5-6 record that, despite God’s overtures, Israel had ‘acted corruptly towards him; to their shame they are no longer his children (wow!), but a warped and crooked generation. Is this the way you repay the LORD, O foolish & unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you & formed you?’ I’m reminded of the Messiah’s passion-lament concerning the arrogant religionists as he approached his divine destiny, “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets & stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look your house is left to you desolate…'” (Mt. 23:37-39).

All this begs the question of God-followers, then and today: is our confidence mis-placed or God-faced?? Let me explain…

To a greater or lesser extent we have probably all been influenced by Norman Vincent Peale’s ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ written in the early 1950’s. Please note I’m not denying the physical and mental benefits of a positive outlook on life. I am simply pointing out that much of today’s populist, ego-centric and superficial ‘Christianity’ has simply re-christened Peale’s philosophy and peddles it as ‘gospel.’ I have fellow-pastors urging me not to speak ‘negatively’ about the Church because I’m thereby cursing God’s cause! Frankly I refuse to heed their call because I’m too much of a realist. Let me give you two further examples of mis-placed faith.

  • A sweet, upright lady, professing the faith, recently sent me a scenic picture of a beautiful sunrise with this message: ‘Speak to yourself every morning: I’m the best, I can do it, I’m a winner, today is my day…’ Sounds good, doesn’t it? We take it as normal, because we’re bombarded by this kind of thing every day via pulpits and the media. Now we are created in God’s image, and therefore have great worth and potential. However, no amount of ‘rah… rah… rah’ will cut it in facing our daily struggles in a confusing world.
  • A lovely ‘Christian’ lady who a few years ago courageously battled her way through cancer with the help of chemotherapy and the prayers of many, claimed her restored health was due to her positive mindset. Very recently her husband contracted cancer and she assured us the outcome would be the same because she had ‘great faith.’ Sadly, he passed away a few weeks ago. ‘Faith in faith’ is mis-placed faith and is followed by huge guilt when things don’t work out as anticipated.

By contrast, the psalmists and Jesus himself commend a God-faced confidence. The God of space and time, the ‘Infinite-Personal God’ of the Bible (Francis Schaeffer) is surely the only proven basis for our faith and hope. I’m reminded of Moses’ words, ‘Lord, through all the generations you have been our home! (the place where we kick off our shoes and relax) (a reality now and not just ‘in heaven’). Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.’ (Ps. 90:1-2, NLT). God-faced confidence is vital for the individual believer as well as every true ecclesia.

Time for a coffee break before we apply these scriptural insights?? Or perhaps a re-visit tomorrow while our theme is still fresh in your mind??

 

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[Fountain of Eingedi Today]

Now for some practical applications for God’s people, going forward…

You recall how the apostle Paul in his first Letter to the proud Corinthian assembly brought them back to earth: “few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God’ (1 Cor. 1:26-29, NLT). When grappling with his ‘thorn in the flesh’ the apostle had to learn the painful lesson that ‘God’s power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:8-9). What about Jesus and his disciples? Cheryl McGrath, a respected blogger from Australia, puts it powerfully: ‘The raw material God works with is weakness, foolishness and ordinariness. Jesus chose the twelve for their deficiencies, not for their strengths. Jesus could work with their human failings and flaws. What he couldn’t work with was human goodness, human strength, or human morality… the reason God chooses the foolish, the weak and the common above the wise, the strong and the elite, is simple. It’s so ‘no flesh can boast in his presence!'” Stephen Kaung, once mentored by Watchman Nee, preaching in the USA said ‘The Church is too strong!’ You see, in the West we have a surfeit of programs, seminars, equipment, etc – yet the Church is largely failing in the proclamation and living of the Good News of the Kingdom! This past Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, but where is the radical testimony and life of the early Church that turned its world upside down? The prophet Zechariah declared 500 years before Christ, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel (re-builder of the Jerusalem temple), ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground!'” (Zech. 4:6-7, NIV). In 1962 Bob Dylan sang, The answer my friend is blowing in the wind…’ The Church today has put the Spirit in boxes, packaged him, and the truth is you can’t keep the wind in a box. May the Spirit of Christ awaken us to a total reliance on the Father and the Son in the work and witness of the Kingdom.

Some succinct, practical guidelines…

  1. Look often within. Personally and congregationally, is our confidence mis-placed or God-faced? Moses in Deut. 32:15 reminds us that, after experiencing God’s goodness in so many ways, Israel ‘became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.’ Today’s plump, stuffed church members and leaders must repent! God’s kindness demands it (Rom.2:4).
  2. Look often at God. Imho most Christians no longer read their Bibles (the text itself) and are biblically illiterate [3]. We must re-focus on the God of the Bible: his majesty, sovereignty, power and mercy. As we behold our world’s magnificent mountains, we should look at the God of the mountains. I love the mountains of my country, they renew my vision of creation and the Creator himself. Ascending to Jerusalem the pilgrims of old sang, ‘I look up to the mountains – does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!’ (Ps. 121:1-2, NLT). [4]
  3. Look back often. Trace the story of God’s loving dealings with Israel in Deut. 32:1-14 and find encouragement therein. The story is told of a monk who rode a donkey to his destinations in the valleys and mountains. Sometimes he rode the donkey looking backwards, in order to view all the way God had safely brought him. Often look back at the Cross. As Jesus, also on a donkey, progressed toward his inevitable destiny, he said to his disciples and the crowds, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross (an instrument of death), and follow me’ (Mk. 8:34). Every Jesus-follower must have their own Calvary where self-centredness is dealt a death-blow and he/she is resurrected to new life. ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal. 2:20, NRSV).
  4. Look forward often. To those crucified with Christ Paul gives this logical encouragement: ‘If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love…’  (Rom. 8:31ff). Followers of Jesus in my own country with all its political, economic, social and moral challenges, do take hope from this blessed assurance!
  5. Look around often. David never fought his battles alone. He had his friends with him on the road, any one of whom would surely have laid down his life for his leader. He had that closest of friends, Jonathan. During my 1993 burn-out I was out of action for six months: I was suffering from social anxiety, panic attacks and deep depression. For those six months I could not read my Bible or pray but ‘floated’ on the ocean of the loving prayers of family and friends. That’s why I subscribe to smaller organic church groups (rather than large congregations) where we can be ‘weak’ and yet remain accepted and loved. Nothing quite like it!
  6. Look often to God. Read Ps. 57:7-11 again. Paul reminds the saints in the Roman garrison city of Philippi, ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:6-7, NLT). My wife and I literally live by these verses every day, and what a difference it has made. I heartily recommended keeping a simple prayer-diary, itemizing blessings and petitions. It will bless you heaps!

Whatever our anxieties, let’s pray right now for a God-faced faith, in Jesus’ strong name!

Footnote:

[1] In my years of counseling with mothers who underwent abortion for non-medical reasons as well as folk facing gender uncertainty, I have witnessed the devastation of guilt until the Lord has graciously brought healing and direction to broken hearts.

[2] Many get it all wrong when they think that Israel’s purpose was self-serving. Don’t we read the Book of Isaiah?? Don’t we read our Bibles??

[3] I’m neither fundamentalist nor bibliolator. I love reading the written Word with due reference to sound hermeneutical principles and historical context, through the lens of the Living Word.

[4] It is a known fact that a visit to the ocean or the mountains, even for an hour or so, can work wonders for our emotional and spiritual upliftment. Fortunately we are 20 minutes drive from the ocean. Music works for many. On the topic of anxiety and depression I recommend literature by Christian psychiatrists, Dr.’s Minirth and Meier.

‘CHURCH CAPTURE’ [The Challenge Of Systems]

prison cells

In my country, South Africa, ‘State Capture’ often tops the list of news bulletins and court cases these days. Our past-president, with a lot of help from his amoral and super-greedy friends, has been found to have had both hands in the SA economic cookie jar for a decade, leaving it empty. At last our present president, Mr. Ramaphosa, appointed the Zondo commission to examine these allegations, the outcome thus far confirming the worst and more. The commission will continue for a long time yet, and all South Africans (except the cookie thieves) long and pray for a just outcome.

At the same time, I believe (with many others) that the institutional Church in our land has been by captured by charlatan ‘prophets’ on the one hand as well spineless leaders who refuse to speak truth to power on the other hand. To muddy the waters even more, well-meaning but biblically naive fundamentalist church leaders are loudly proclaiming the lie that we are a ‘Christian Country’ chosen by God: we are apparently a ‘Kingdom Nation’ that will take our country, Africa and the rest of the world for him. Have we not learned from the history of ancient Israel and the Apartheid Church-State? (‘the  Nationalist Party at Prayer?’) (1)

A fortnight ago I came across a News24 article by Craig Baillie on the South African Church and government politicians. He correctly points out that many South Africans, including the poorest of the poor, continue to view the ANC as their ‘saviour’ and that this ‘God-appointed movement’ will still deliver them from their dire poverty and unemployment after 25 years of failed promises (2). Politics trumps faith and we bow before the same political idol as the Dutch Reformed Church during the Apartheid years.  Once again we have prostituted ourselves with populist politicians. Think of Bishop Vusi Dube’s key-role in the ‘Hands off Zuma’ campaign and Bishop Timothy Ngcobo who has likened this criminal facing 400+ charges to ‘the biblical shepherd on earth.’ Bishops fall over each other in order to lay hands on these political ‘messiahs.’ Baillie maintains that if Christians in SA hope to see real change in the country’s morally contested political landscape, we have to engage the realm of politics from the vantage of biblical values. We have to equip our flocks to engage political affairs through truly biblical lenses. We have to speak truth to power.

It’s a problem of systems once more. We need these in life in order to keep some kind of order, e.g. your early morning shower, breakfast, getting kidz ready for school, etc. But when systems, for all their good, begin to shut us in prison cells, secular or spiritual, we’re in trouble! Eighteen months ago I had an hospital emergency involving six weeks of an induced coma in order to heal. I experienced both drug-induced hallucinations and, I believe, a God-given vision. Normally my dreams are nonsensical  (the kind Dr. Graham Scroggie put down to ‘too much pork for supper’). This particular dream was, I believe, rational and insightful. In it I was being highly pressured by New Age type believers to achieve success by all means – to go out there and ‘get success,’ ‘to make it happen,’ until all my ambitions have been achieved (at best a dangerous thing). God seemed to say to me, ‘My son, the world is run by systems of all kinds, be discerning, and don’t let any one of them imprison you!’

My wife and I have been working through Frank Viola’s Insurgence, chapter by chapter. Just at the time when I was giving thought to this blog, we read pp. 255ff with their powerful insights into systems in general and the world system in particular:

  • The tentacles of the world system extend everywhere and have infiltrated modern education, entertainment, technology, economics, justice, religion, etc.
  • If you pull back the curtain, you discover a greater system, a throne and our Creator God is not sitting on it. Our enemy’s chief goal is to lead us away from Christ and to tempt us to find our security, enjoyment and provision outside of his presence. ‘Unless you tread softly you will be caught up somewhere in Satan’s snares and will lose the liberty that is yours as a child of God!’ (Watchman Nee) (3). On the matter of ‘worldliness’ and evangelism we need the biblical balance of F.F. Bruce: “The Christian is sent into a godless world to reclaim it for its rightful Lord, but while it remains the ‘godless world’ it is an uncongenial environment for the Christian; he cannot feel at home there… This emphasis on being in the world but not of it, involved but detached at the same time, can be found in many parts of the NT.”
  • So, for example, in using our current educational system, be aware of a malicious mind behind it [writer’s point: we are blessed to have in our house church a newly-retired Professor of Industrial Psychology. After a life-time in academia, he strongly affirms this point]. If you’re going to engage in the arts, be aware of a deceptive personality behind that system [writer’s point: I recall a young pastor years ago, trained as a ballet dancer, who chose to quit his career because of the worldly values and moral pressures of his profession]. Changing metaphors, the ocean has been created beautiful for God’s and our enjoyment, but do guard against a treacherous side-wash or rip-tide!

woman on body of water during daytime

How do we avoid being captured by these man-made and often evil systems?

  1. The short answer is ‘through JESUS,’ who came to release the captives and set the oppressed free, because the time of the LORD’S favour had come in him! (Lk. 4:18-19, NLT) He alone can transpose us from the systems and kingdom of darkness, not to another system, but a personal and liberating relationship with him! Do take the time to read Col. 2:6-23 at this point. He lovingly saves us by a simple faith/trust-union with himself. I love Karl Barth’s reported statement-cum-question, ‘The answer is Jesus! Now what’s the question?’
  2. It also comes by a radical decision on your/my part to abandon every man-made system for the Lord and his kingdom’s sake. It won’t just happen! I recall, after pastoring 4 ‘successful’ institutional churches over some 38 years how liberated we felt when my wife and I decided to cut all our ties with that church-system after months of careful consideration and painful prayer. We felt as free as an eagle, soaring the skies! If you like millions of serious believers around the globe [30+ million ‘dones’ in the USA alone] rise to the challenge, it will be very, very difficult, but the ‘road less traveled by’ will make all the difference! (Scott Peck)

The hymn-writer George Matheson (1842-1906) wrote long ago:

‘Make me a captive, Lord,

And then I shall be free;

Force me to render up my sword

And I shall conqueror be!’

Image result for Free pics for prisoners set free

Footnotes:

  1. I respectfully (!) mention the names here of farmer Angus Buchan and economics lecturer Dr. Arno van Niekerk, whose book I’ve read, with whom I have met in person to listen to his ‘vision’ for the nation. [cf my blog on Lighting Matches in the Dark below] One can be absolutely sincere but wrong in one’s reading of the Bible. I know that from personal experience…
  2. Not that other political parties would have fared much better. Personally I believe in the separation of State and Church. We give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to him. I recall a Church leader from Rwanda, where in 1994 a genocide between Hutu and Tutsi tribes claimed almost a million lives, using the the metaphor of a fire:  you can cook on it and use it for warmth, but get too close and you get horribly burnt!
  3. I heartily recommend Watchman Nee’s Love Not the World. [it includes one of the best sermons I’ve heard on baptism, ‘A World Under Water’]

 

THE AUTHENTIC JESUS

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[Compilation of a Typical Jewish Man at the Time of Jesus of Nazareth]

Recently some in our house church network felt the need for ‘church leaders’ and ‘members’ to re-focus on THE AUTHENTIC JESUS. This arose out of a desire to see Jesus reign in/over his body not merely as ceremonial head but as functional head. Leaders, i.e. servant-leaders rather than hierarchical leaders, are called to constantly submit themselves to Christ’s lordship together with their flocks.

You would surely agree that many false ‘Christ’s’ abound today: political ones, humanitarian ones, sentimental ones, traditional ones, Gnostic ones, Western blond/blue-eyed/pale-faced ones, plastic ones, prosperity ones, etc.

After some focused prayer our house church leaders, in tandem with a suburban inter-denominational fraternal (men & women) I have fellowshipped with for more than 30 years, invited a suitably qualified and traveled speaker to lead us in our meditations. In answer to prayer, he turned out an inspired choice, addressing the subject knowledgeably, empowered by colossal research on 2nd Temple Judaism, the Gospels, non-Christian sources and the best contemporary NT scholarship on the topic, etc [1]. He taught powerfully, humorously and humbly (rejecting his clerical titles). Our aim was to focus not on any church celebrity, guru or prominent person but on Jesus himself.

What follows are my personal and ‘organic church’ [2] observations, not necessarily reflecting those of our guest speaker, although there are many similarities. After careful consultation with our busy fraternal members as to the best format that would work for them, we went ahead with their blessing and implied support. Our conference goal was that of personal intimacy and face-to-face fellowship, with a target of between 30-50 people. We’ve learned over the years that in these days of mega-churches and mega-everything, smaller is often better (cf. Jesus and his 12 disciples). In the end our session attendances averaged about 40 folk with a group of 60 on the Sunday evening when some of the local church youth joined us (they were back for more on Monday!). As to the fraternal, out of approximately 20 invited, only two women-pastors and the local youth pastor turned up (does that sound familiar? women last at the cross and first at the tomb), with a good representation of their leadership and committed members. With the exception of two pastors who offered apologies beforehand because of prior denominational commitments, most did not even bother to send their apologies. (note, 10 days before the conference we had also advertised the event at our city fraternal, attended by 100 plus, and on local Christian radio). Of course I should have known better, having become convinced over 38 years of leadership within denominational churches and 12 years outside, that it is virtually impossible to change the ‘system’ from within, in fact it tends to change you! But then I’ll always be an optimist. I am also aware of the danger of an ‘us and them’ syndrome and an isolation mentality like Elijah’s in 1 Kings 19. One of our house church leaders captured the experience well by referring to Jesus’ ‘Parable of the King’s Wedding Banquet for His Son’ in Mt. 22:1-14. V. 3/NRSV, “He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves saying: ‘Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business… Then he said to his slaves, ‘Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests…” And so the ‘hoi polloi,’ God’s ragamuffins came to the conference and feasted at the King’s table! (btw, we concluded the conference with an intimate and inspiring ‘breaking of bread’ at our coffee tables, the proverbial ‘cherry on the cake’) Am I being too critical and judgmental? Perhaps. Changing metaphors, I do know that excellent seed was sown in our gatherings which, under God, will bring a certain harvest!

Image result for free pics of jesus parable of the great banquet

Let me now briefly share some of the teaching high-lights concerning the real Jesus

Firstly his humanity.

  • When Jesus was born of Mary, while he came into our world as the God-Man, he came as one fully human. We have been brain-washed into thinking that when, e.g., Jesus was tested in his earthly life, he had some secret advantage over us mere humans because of his deity. A careful study of the Gospels makes perfectly clear his humanity at all times. It took time, for example, for Jesus to become aware of his ‘different’ mission on earth: remember when, as a 12-year-old, he got so caught up in discussions with the temple leaders in Jerusalem that he forgot to inform his family as to his where-abouts. ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s (not Joseph’s) house?’ (Lk. 2:41ff/NRSV) (cf. v. 51, his mother ‘treasured’ these things in her heart, perhaps more so than Joseph?)
  • His humanity is underlined from the very beginning in his cave-crib birth (Lk. 2).
  • In his childhood escape to Egypt for safety reasons (Mt. 2:13ff). Do we even begin to understand the plight of refugees in Europe, the Middle East, the USA, and in my own country?
  • In his societal ‘illegitimacy’ (Mt. 2:18ff) as ‘an out of wedlock child.’ He was often shunned as ‘that bastard’ child of Joseph and Mary. And so we could go on.

Secondly, his obedience. The Hebrews Letter describes Jesus’ physical and spiritual growth, ‘In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered…’ (Heb. 5:7ff). I.o.w. throughout his earthly life Jesus learned obedience through hard daily choices, in the light of his Scripture memorization, and through his daily submission to his earthly and heavenly Father. So much more to be said…

Thirdly, his beauty. As our speaker filled in the gaps in the story of Jesus, I was intellectually and emotionally overwhelmed by the over-all beauty of Jesus! It was a ‘rainbow moment’ for me, as I thought of his firm but gentle interaction with all kinds of people at all times in all kinds of places, especially in his dealings with the broken and rejected.

  • Think of the social mix of his first chosen disciples, which included a ‘terrorist’ like Simon the Zealot, a big mouth like Simon Peter and a somewhat spineless Judas Iscariot (Mk. 3:13ff).
  • His gracious kingdom invitation to the crooked and hated tax-collector Levi (Mk. 2:13ff).
  • The calling of the ‘small man syndrome’ Zacchaeus (Lk. 19).
  • His treatment of the ‘bastardized’ and broken Samaritan woman of Sychar (Jn. 4).
  • The woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8), etc. I’m reminded of Isaiah’s prophetic Servant Song, ‘Look at my servant, whom I strengthen… He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth’ (Is. 42:1-4/ NLT). How maimed and scarred is our Saviour, yet how beautiful beyond description! [3]

I conclude with the inspiring words of Pedro Arrupe [4], ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything!’ [5]

Footnotes:

[1] References included J.P. Meier, JDG Dunn, NT Wright, Craig Keener, et al.

[2] I see Francis Chan speaks of ‘missional micro-churches.’

[3] See N. American Brian Zahnd’s excellent Beauty Will Save The World: Rediscovering The Allure & Mystery Of Christianity. (imho, Christ would have served better than Christianity, simply because the latter carries so much baggage!)

[4] Pedro Arrupe (1907-1991) was a Basque priest who served in Japan during WW2, was sentenced to solitary confinement on false espionage charges, survived the Hiroshima bombing and then served the poor in Latin America until a debilitating stroke took his life. He inspired the world by his personal suffering and commitment to justice.

[5] In light of our topic, I decided to re-read an old copy of Malcolm Muggeridge’s (1903-1990) Jesus Rediscovered.’ It came alive to me more than ever before. Muggeridge was a Cambridge graduate, renowned journalist and satirist, and BBC presenter. He famously converted from Communism to Christ. He was critical of institutional Christianity. He was one of the first to promote Mother Theresa of Calcutta. If you can find an old copy, you’ll find it interesting though perhaps not agreeing with everything he said and wrote!

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‘LIGHTING MATCHES IN THE DARK’

Flame, Fire, Match, Beautiful, Hot, Burn

 

In one of our house church gatherings a member was sharing from Isaiah 50. He focused on v. 4ff, ‘The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He awakens me morning my morning, wakens my ear to listen like someone being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious…’ [The Prophecy of Isaiah is a ‘salvation symphony’ in three movements, viz. judgment, comfort and hope. Chap. 50 depicts Israel’s failure as ‘the servant of the LORD’ (the nation was rotten to the core with sham religion and pagan idolatry) and announces an alternative obedient servant’ who would bring ‘good news’ to all people]

While he was finishing up, I browsed through the latter part of Is. 50 which reads (v. 10ff), ‘Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.’ Ouch!

When we as humans turn from God’s loving call [in Creation, our conscience, history and the Bible itself], we develop deaf ears to his ‘gentle whispers’ (e.g. the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:12). When we become self-sufficient and clever in our own eyes, when we start building our own towers and empires (national or personal), we resort to ‘lighting matches in the dark.’ In my country we’ve experienced power outages from time to time. We have to resort to matches and candles. While helpful, one can hardly read or work by their inferior light.

Herewith some moral and spiritual pointers for society, the Church and our personal life:

  • While shopping during the Christmas holidays, I took special note of people and their behaviour around me. It seemed so many were in a bubble, unaware of anyone else. As a child and teen I was taught to be aware of people around me, to take note of others’ personal space and to be courteous. These days, some people will walk right over you unless you jump out of their way! It’s as if they’re the only people on the planet and the universe revolves around them. Maybe I’m too jaundiced in my outlook: or are most people more ego-centric today? One is reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Tim. 3:1-5/MSG, ‘As the end approaches (in the Bible, ‘the end’ begins with Jesus’ first advent), people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck up, profane… allergic to God…’
  • My wife and I have been asked to pray for a number of younger folk in our family-and-friends’ circle. Two claim to be atheists, the one is suffering from acute anxiety despite many positives in his life. Another young man has recently ‘come out of the closet’ and committed to a gay relationship. Over the years my wife and I have been privileged to walk a long road with at least a dozen folk struggling with sexual identity. We have at all times tried to be understanding, sensitive and compassionate (we remain good friends to this day). In my research on this topic I have read of many LGBTIQ folk who, on advice (from renowned apologist Ravi Zacharias, et al) have seriously asked their Creator to reveal to them their true sexual identity. This exercise has been challenging to the core but enlightening and even transforming. Having exegeted the Book of Romans over a life-time, I am yet to be convinced that our Creator is himself confused and/or caught off guard by these issues and that he condones what is being peddled on every hand as ‘the new normal.’ If you take a slice of cake, you don’t ask the cake what variety it is but the baker. Again, referring to Zacharias, God purposes every believer’s body to be his holy ‘temple’ in this world, in order to honour him who redeemed us (1 Cor. 3:16; 3:19). That’s not always a convenient truth, even for heterosexual believers, for we all wrestle with powerful sexual urges and impulses. However, in and through Christ, we are able to discipline our bodies in order to remain as pure as we can possibly be (cf. Rom. 6). I have always admired the writings of Henri Nouwen, the brilliant Dutch theologian who gave the latter part of his life to serving the disabled at L’Arche Community in Canada. Toward the end of his life he confessed an attraction to men rather than women. Despite this he took an oath of celibacy, ‘for Jesus’ sake.’ He did so, compelled not by church rules so much as by the love of the Father welcoming the prodigal (Lk. 15:11ff). Sure, we must rid the Church of legalism, but equally from libertinism (‘anything and everything goes’).**
  • I also recall, with regard to the Church, someone suggesting that, in the absence of genuine awakening in the Body, some will resort to lighting matches rather than relying on God’s fire from above and within. We see this particularly in so much contemporary, up-front performances with sound, smoke and lighting effects trying to evoke ‘worship’ from those looking on from pews in the dark. These are largely man-made efforts bringing no lasting change. (cf. the frantic false prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:25ff… LOL!)
  • Some of my readers may be truly searching for God. You’ve been burnt by ‘Church-as-we-know-it,’ you’ve been hurt by well-meaning ‘Christians,’ etc. You may at this point be a sincere and well-meaning atheist. May I humbly suggest you read up on the brilliant C.S. Lewis’s journey from atheism to faith in his ‘Surprised by Joy!’ You may also enjoy listening to the contemporary testimony of the bright young atheist-turned-apologist, David Wood. cf. his ‘Why I am a Christian’ on YouTube.

Two final applications from Is. 50:

  1. God’s saints are urged to rely on his wisdom and grace, especially in dark days (v. 10). Sometimes we may feel like we’re abandoned to darkness***, but he is not far-off and will surely come to light our candle in those seasons. When the psalmist David was being hunted down by his enemies he exclaimed, You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light! With your help I can run through a barricade; with my God I can scale a wall!’ (Ps. 18:28-29).
  2. Those so caught up with themselves that they don’t grasp their dependence on God are warned not to trust in themselves! We so easily default to our own righteousness and incense. Many seek happiness in themselves, ‘reason,’ subjective (often hedonistic) experience, possessions and human achievements rather than in God himself (they’re like puppies chasing their tail – ignore the tail and behold it follows). Ironically, they are urged to ‘walk in the light of their own fire!’ Their day of utter darkness draws near, for God ultimately grants us our wishes! (cf. C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’)

May I gently call you to Jesus****, who declared to the religious establishment (‘Church’) and common folk of his day, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life!’ (Jn. 8:12) May we as individual believers and ecclesiae all over the world respond by following Jesus and being surprised by his incomparable joy!

Footnotes

** I’m aware that many Christians will not agree with my outlook here. I respect your sincerely held views. I simply ask that you will do the same with mine. Thank you.

*** My wife and I and our family have ourselves been through some dark days, including acute depression, near-death (both of us), the gang-rape of our daughter, the suicide attempt of our son, etc. The sun does shine again!

 

'We are the sheep of His pasture....'

**** Unfortunately we have been conditioned by the Church’s and our world’s false images of God. See my recent blogs on ‘What Does God Look Like?’ and glimpse something of his beauty and glory!

 

WHAT DOES GOD LOOK LIKE? (2)

Child Reading Bible Bed African Education

What is the basis for claiming ‘God looks like Jesus?’ In order to answer that question, we obviously have to look at the biblical revelation of God.

Personally I’m convinced by a wide spectrum of biblical teaching. Unfortunately, because of the large scope of material, we’ll have to be selective. May I suggest we on this occasion limit ourselves to the Gospel according to John. [those wanting to explore further, cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-20 (NLT); Phil. 2:1-11 (Is. 45:22-25** footnote); Col. 1:15-20, 2:6-12; Heb. 1; etc]

A little background to John’s Good News. Traditional scholarship dates the beloved apostle John’s eye-witness account around 85 AD or even later. Other scholars insist he wrote it much earlier, as early as the 50’s AD & certainly not later than 70 AD (fall of Jerusalem). His Gospel addresses Hellenistic Jews as well Greek thinkers. It’s purpose is evangelistic (cf. 20:31). While the Synoptic Gospels each have their particular slants, John’s account is probably the most interpretative. His prologue (1:1-18) is apologetic, i.e. a ‘reasonable explanation’ of the Christ-story to an idolatrous world. We refer to 6 basic texts:

  1. Jn. 1:1-3/NIV. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him was nothing made that has been made…’ Here is a clear echo of Gen. 1-2. In Genesis God spoke the creation into being, in deliberate parallel John presents God speaking ‘salvation’ into existence, the two being complementary. In Jesus God’s word takes on human form and enters history! Jesus not only speaks the word of God, he is the Word of God, and through him he speaks ‘life’ to a hopeless world.
  2. Jn. 1:17-18. Climaxing John’s stupendous claim that ‘the Word became flesh,’ the apostle discloses the Divine Nature. ‘For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the only Son (lit. ‘God only begotten’), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’ William Temple summarises, ‘He does not reveal all that is meant by the word of God. There ever remains the unsearchable bliss of Deity. But he reveals what it vitally concerns us to know; He reveals God as Father.’
  3. Jn. 5:19-23. John explains a further implication of ‘life through the Son:’ ‘the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him’ (v. 22-23). Jesus, the God-Man, is God’s ultimate standard of judgment. Interesting!
  4. Jn. 5:29-30. John continues with Jesus’ inheritance. ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ Jesus and the Father, though two persons, are ‘one’ in very essence.
  5. Jn. 12:44-46. Confronting the Jews’ continued unbelief, “Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’ To observe Jesus is to observe the Father.
  6. Jn. 14:8-11. Jesus proclaims himself as the way to the Father. “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered, ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (chew on that). How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? … Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.'” Surely no comment needed…

So if God looks like Jesus, I guess we need to clarify what Jesus looked/looks like, again a huge subject [in our house church we’re doing a 6-part study on ‘The Authentic Jesus,’ we’re also convening a 4-day city conference on the same topic in mid-February 2019, d.v.]. While shaving one morning, I listened to a secular radio interview with an experienced Child Psychologist. She was asked to define ‘love,’ how children experience and express it. Interestingly, she referred to 1 Cor. 13! [Years ago I learned that one could replace the word ‘love’ in 1 Cor. 13 with ‘Jesus,’ or even one’s own name (ouch!)]. Here goes: v.4-8/NLT, ‘Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices wherever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever…’

We conclude with a selection of biblical pointers to what Jesus (and therefore the Father) looks like:

  • Jesus is magnificent in his holiness. ‘Holiness’ in the Bible has the sense of ‘otherness.’ Rudolf Otto in his classic ‘The Idea of the Holy,’ used terms like the ‘numinous’ and ‘mysterium tremendum’ to describe that ‘otherness.’ We capture something of it in the prophet Isaiah’s temple-encounter with God: ‘”Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory…’ ‘I am ruined!… My eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty'” (Is. 6:3-5). Franz Schubert conveys  something of it in his beautiful ‘Sanctus.’ Simon Peter, confronted with Christ’s majesty and otherness on Galilee’s shore, exclaimed ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!‘ (Lk. 5:1-11).
  • Jesus is magnificent in his lordship. Jesus is Lord of the universe. He’s the source and instrument of creation and reconciliation. Do take time to read the apostle Paul’s magnificent hymns in Phil. 2:6-11 and Col. 1:15-20 – together they form the very heart of the Gospel!
  • Jesus is magnificent in his humanity. His holiness is earthy. ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood’ (Jn. 1:14/MSG). He has a sense of humour. One super-spiritual student said to his College Principal, ‘We never read of Jesus laughing in the Scriptures.’ The wise Principal responded immediately, ‘Nor that he brushed his teeth!’ We are not Gnostics. Jesus came to make us truly human (D. Bonhoeffer). We are free to be ‘human’ in the most glorious sense.
  • Jesus is magnificent in his redemption [cf. my archives, ‘Another Look at the Atonement’]. Jesus absorbed all that sin, evil and the devil could throw at him. He took it into his own body, died and rose again, defeating every enemy. He emerges as ‘Christus Victor’ (Gustav Aulen). ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk. 10:45). In outrageous grace he paid the costly price of our redemption from the slave-market of sin and the devil and and set us free forever!

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" ca. 1661-69 by Rembrandt (Leiden 1606 - Ámsterdam 1669). Oil on canvas (262x205cm). Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. The work depicts the moment of the prodigal son's return to his father in the Biblical parable. His evocation of spirituality and the parable's message of forgiveness has been considered the height of his art. The aged artist's power of realism is not diminished, but increased by psychological insight and spiritual awareness.Il bacio più dolce e prezioso...

 

 

[Do you make the connection here? The Father is as approachable as Jesus]

 

 

Wishing you all the blessings of Advent 2018! I thank and greet you, my patient readers and your loved-ones, in the glorious name of ‘Immanuel, God with us!’

Footnotes:

** I’m no OT expert. However it seems that while in the OT we have an accurate revelation of God, it is incomplete. It’s a case of shadow and full light. In Jesus we also enjoy a ‘new (i.e. ‘fulfilled’) covenant,’ realised by the indwelling Spirit (cf. Jer. 33:31-34; Heb. 8) [cf. my blog series, ‘The Freedom and the Glory’]. Writer Keith Giles may be right when he suggests that we have struggled with understanding God because we’ve often read the OT through old filters. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 3:14-16, 18, ‘But their minds (i.e. the Israelites’) were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away… And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect (or ‘contemplate’) the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…’ Even the the OT prophets and angels did not fully see what we see (1 Pet. 1:10-12). If everyone in the OT already fully grasped who God is, what was the point of sending his Son into the world? (cf. Heb. 1:1-4)

 

WHAT DOES GOD LOOK LIKE? (1)

 

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I suppose we’ve all grown up with some or other picture of God: the bearded man in the sky with a frown on his face? Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God?’ (1741) (see footnote**) The kindly and harmless Father Christmas in the sky? ‘The man upstairs?’ I grew up in a nominally Christian home: as a young teen I recall being impressed by God, I was aware of his holiness and yet also sensed that in his goodness he somehow ‘had time for me.’ To escape judgment I used to recite the Lord’s Prayer last thing at night in case he came for me and I had sinned (I wasn’t guilty of any coarse stuff but had a tender conscience about subtler things). I was pretty much a parent-pleaser (by excelling at school) and somehow imagined that God the Father was someone to be made happy at all times. If I failed, I just had to ‘try harder.’ These images of God, usually false, have obviously affected the way we relate to God, others and ourselves. Hence the all-important question, ‘what does God really look like?’ [We’ve already indicated some perceptions of the ‘Christian God’: in this blog we won’t be considering non-Christian deities, past and present]

Before referencing the Scriptural revelation of God in answer to our question, it may be worth highlighting some contemporary debate – inside and outside of traditional Church parameters. Here’s a brief resume of materials I’ve collected over the last few years:

  • Teacher, author and copywriter Keith Giles, living in California, fellowshipping with a house church group that gives 100% of their offerings to the poor. Giles maintains that many Christians still hold fast to the idea that the Father of Jesus, especially as depicted in the OT, is often that of a wrathful, impatient, angry and even bloodthirsty God. This in contrast to Jesus the Son, who is decidedly softer and more gentle in personality. People try and reconcile Father and Son by referring to the Trinity, three distinct persons yet making up the one substance we call the true God. Giles insists Christians are off-base when they attribute two different personalities to the Father and the Son. To him the Scriptures repeatedly affirm that Jesus is what the Father looks like, i.e. the Father looks like Jesus. I.o.w. the Father is not the wrathful, angry, petty and violent God we often think he is – in fact, Jesus reveals an ‘Abba’ (father) who looks just like himself in heart and character.
  • American teacher, blogger and multiple author, Frank Viola, who has abandoned hierarchical institutional ‘Church’ structures for ‘organic church.’ ‘Someone may object that God the Father and the Holy Spirit are the subjects of the Bible. But remember that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and He has come to manifest and glorify Christ. Biblically speaking, there is no God outside of Jesus Christ. God is known in and through His Son.’
  • Brian Zahnd, the lead-pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is a prolific writer and writes from a fairly recent radical transformation of his life and theology. He writes about ‘The Faceless White Giant’ he grew up with. This is an angry God who terrified him. As a young man he liked Jesus but was scared of his ‘dad.’ George MacDonald (Scottish minister, author and poet, 1824-1905) helped him: ‘I love the one God seen in the face of Jesus Christ.’ This he sees in contrast to Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Angry God’ toward sinners: hence his book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.’ 
  • Jason Micheli of Aldersgate UMC in Alexandria, Virginia. He puts it tersely, ‘If you can’t say it about Jesus, don’t say it about God.’
  • American author and blogger, Josh Lawson. ‘Behold, the game-changer! Any picture of God that does not align with the Man from Nazareth is false.’
  • American blogger, Becky Johnson. “‘God,’ as a name can be used in any fashion we wish until we come to see Him through Christ.”
  • Renowned British theologian, NT scholar and author, Tom Wright. In his The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion he says, ‘I suspect, in fact, that we have been misled by the easy assumption that while the Son and perhaps the Spirit are out and about on their various tasks, the Father is, as it were, waiting back at the office, calmly in charge of the world. But if the Christology of the New Testament means anything, it means that we only learn the deepest truths about God himself by looking at Jesus.’
  • Probably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, Swiss-German Karl Barth. He put it like this: ‘Any deviation, any attempt to evade Jesus Christ in favour of another supposed revelation of God, or any denial of the fullness of God’s presence in him, will cause us to fall into darkness and confusion.’
  • Bobby Grow of The Evangelical Calvinist, citing Barth, takes it one step further. He submits that ‘for the Christian there is no God without the humanity of Christ.’ Christians don’t KNOW God without God in his humanity in Christ. Christians don’t have an abstract conception of God that they’ve developed prior to meeting God concretely in the face of Jesus Christ. Barth is clear, we have no other conception of God available to us except for the conception that God is always already ‘the God-Man for us.’

Does all this make any difference at a personal, pastoral and societal level? Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance, as a chaplain during World War 2, came across a young soldier, scarcely twenty years old and mortally wounded. ‘Padre, is God really like Jesus?’ Torrance reassured him, ‘He is the only God that there is, the God who has come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Saviour.’ As he prayed and commended him to the Lord, the young man passed away in peace.

Small wonder that children, in their simplicity and absolute trust, were attracted to Jesus! While our Lord’s adult disciples shooed them away, Jesus rebuked them, called children to him, touched them, took them in his arms, blessed them and made them happy!

 

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Hopefully what we have shared thus far simplifies our Christian apologetics and daily interaction at home, work, in the market-place and in our places of learning. The fact that God looks like Jesus is indeed ‘good news!’ God has a human face, people can relate to him in personal friendship and intimacy. This reality has the power to change not only families but also the Church and the world!

We would not be doing our subject justice without referring to its Biblical foundations. We’ll take a look at these in Part 2 –  please stay tuned!

Footnotes:

** Does God become angry? It would seem so, from Scriptures in the OT and NT. Did Jesus become angry? On at least two occasions: when he cleared the temple from the materialistic business dealers (Jn. 2:12); when he wept tears of anger at death claiming his friend Lazarus – yet another victim! (Jn. 11:33-35). [PS, let’s not under-estimate philosopher-theologian Jonathan Edwards’ massive intellect and spiritual stature! He was not your typical hell-fire-and-brimstone preacher as some imagine – he was in fact a softly-spoken, highly logical and sensitive persuader]

 

‘REVIVAL’ – SOME QUESTIONS & SUBMISSIONS [PART 2]

Micah 6:8 - Walk Humbly with God - Bible Verses To Go

Before proceeding, I believe many well-meaning evangelical Christians crave ‘revival’ at the expense of the Reviver. Some pray for revival so that they may conveniently escape the troubles besetting their society and avoid the challenges of daily Jesus-following. ** See footnote.

So what might ‘revival’ look like today, in this post-Christian era??

Certainly today’s Church and societal ethos is radically different to that of bygone years. The commonalities of past revivals like prayer, repentance, the Cross, transformation and mission will probably recur in contemporary situations, to a lesser or greater degree or in different forms. E.g, we’re definitely not living in the Scottish Hebridean society of the 1940’s. Mary Morrison, converted in that revival, related how as children, from their earliest days in the home and at school were steeped in sabbath observance, Bible-memorization and the Westminster Confession of the Church of Scotland. The islanders’ biggest temptation was going to the village dances and over-indulging in alcohol. By contrast, members of western churches are often biblically illiterate and exposed to very shallow and populistic preaching. In addition postmodern family-life is bombarded by public and social media dispensing amoral values.

Our local house churches recently grappled with the subject of revival, covering past revivals and then examining two very practical Bible passages. Both passages assume ‘life in Christ’ through a faith-union with him. In the NT this inward life of Christ is both vertical and horizontal (cf. 1 Jn. 1). Having focused largely on the vertical, we also need to examine the horizontal.

The first passage is James 5:13-20 (written only 20-30 years following Jesus’ earthly life and ministry). The apostle is addressing scattered churches which had become comfortable with a private ‘religion’ failing in social obligations. James exhorts his readers to true body-life: 5:15-16 (MSG), ‘Believing prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven – healed inside and out. Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed… if you know of people who have wandered from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction…’ Thus the life of faith demands mutual confession (a need for wisdom here), mutual sharing of pain and joy, concern about each other’s total well-being and prayer for one another. Of course we know these things but don’t regularly practise them! I recall visiting a highly-effective cell church in Abidjan, Coite de Voire – across the front sanctuary wall was written, Now That You Know These Things, You Will Be Blessed If You Do Them!’ (Jn. 13:17). That congregation was known throughout the city (and many parts of the world) for its care and concern for needy and broken people.

Now Hebrews 10:19-27 (Hebrews was written before the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 AD). If James addressed ‘practical religion,’ the unknown author of the Hebrews letter addressed people ‘too religious’ in terms of OT Judaistic sacrificial ritual. They needed to grasp the once-for-all-sufficiency of Christ as their great High Priest, who constantly interceded for them. Having reminded them of this ‘new and living way’ in Christ bringing assurance and hope, he underlines the importance of their social responsibilities: v. 22ff (NIV), ‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds… Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ ‘Consider’ implies ‘giving careful thought to.’ ‘Spur one another on’ in the original meant ‘incite.’ At the moment we have many poverty-stricken South Africans inciting people to violence against local  government – as believers one can sympathise with them but not condone the violence. By contrast, in our assemblies, we should be ‘inciting’ one another to love and good deeds. The word ‘love’ today is largely understood in sentimental and erotic terms – the Bible speaks of a cruciform-love that serves [Francis Schaeffer spoke of ‘practical, observable love,’ exemplified in servanthood: cf. Jn. 13]. It all boils down to fostering a caring community versus western individualism! In order to pursue these ideals believers must meet regularly, not to be pulpit-bashed, but to ‘encourage one another’ in the light of Christ’s return. There are no ‘lone rangers’ in God’s family – close and regular koinonia is not a nice idea but a divine necessity. The young Church certainly got it right: ‘They (including the 3,000 baptized converts at Pentecost) committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers’ (Acts 2:42/MSG). ***

My submission: let’s not wait for a general revival, let’s live it daily, through the Christ-life within, connecting with other serious Jesus-followers all over the world! American author Wayne Jacobsen was radically renewed when God led him and his wife out of the traditional pastorate, connecting with serious Jesus-followers world-wide. You can find my own story in my blog site’s About. American Frank Viola is another out-of-the-box pioneer. His latest book ‘Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom’ is impacting many around the world. Two couples in our house group are using it in their family-prayers with much benefit. You see, institutional churches often stifle the life out of their members through boring routine, restrictive structures, a clergy-laity divide, denominational isolation and exhausting church programs. Moving outside of the organized Church is nothing new. Think of John Wesley and his field-preaching and home class-meetings (one bishop argued that no one could be converted outside of a church sanctuary) – that awakening led, amongst other things, to the change of a nation (think of the abolition of the slave-trade). Years ago, Billy Graham saw the potential of the 1970’s Jesus Revolution, but these Jesus-freaks freaked out most main-stream churches. I’ve been privileged to visit China several times and research the Chinese house church movement at post-graduate level. Some years ago it was estimated that these house groups totalled approximately 100 million plus believers. American sociologist Josh Packard’s survey of the American Church found that some 34 million believers have become ‘dones,’ not because they had backslidden but because of their commitment to Christ. ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working’ (Jn. 5:17/NRSV).

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[Early Church Symbol]

In summary, we can still learn much from the parable of the lost sheep (Lk. 15:1-7): the shepherd left the 99 in safety to go after that one sheep that was lost. The more we get involved with the struggles of those around us, the more we shall see the living Lord at work, intervening and bringing change. Genuinely loving people is the currency of the kingdom. Agape love alone will change the world, usually one life at a time. ‘

By way of personal application, may I humbly make two suggestions to individual Jesus-followers and their groups:

  1. Instead of just rushing ahead with well-intentioned plans, consider listening carefully for the voice of the Father. This was the way of Abram, Elijah, John the Baptizer and Jesus. He will speak and show you the way.
  2. Begin in your own home, as did Joshua, Daniel, and the young Church. At the renewal of the covenant by God’s ancient people at Shechem, Joshua declared publicly: “‘Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD!’ (Josh 24:14-16/NIV).

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Footnotes:

** I suspect this is true in South Africa. This may include the national Angus Buchan prayer rallies, without detracting from much good accomplished by this man of God.

*** I urge you to get hold of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s booklet, The Life Together. You will never look at fellowship in the same way again.

**** With respect, I don’t go all the way with Jacobsen’s theology and ecclesiology, but God certainly is using him to bring healing to disillusioned and bruised ex church-goers all over the world. His network is also doing outstanding work among a marginalized tribe in Kenya, empowering crop-growing, small business enterprises, etc.

‘REVIVAL’: SOME QUESTIONS & SUBMISSIONS [PART 1]

Prayer For Revival Clipart

 

I have many questions about ‘revival,’ don’t you? What is it, and what is it not? (many  insist they have ‘revival,’ others that it lies ‘just around the corner’) What has it looked like in the past? Are there different kinds of revivals? What is it that eventually ‘be-devils’ even genuine revivals? What are the things common to most true revivals, amid their diversity? What would revival look like today, in our post-Christian era? (I’ve seen little written on this issue, hopefully we can agree on some pointers going forward). Surely all serious believers long for a greater sense of God’s presence in his Church and in society? (at the same time doesn’t the Church need a ‘revelation’ of what we already have and are in Christ? Cf. Eph. 1).

So what is ‘revival’? Can we agree on what it’s not? On the one hand, neither ‘soul-winning’ campaigns, nor cheap ‘prosperity gospel’ platforms, nor purely social campaigns around valid societal issues. What is ‘revival?’ A simple definition, based on biblical and historical evidence, would be an ‘awakening’ of slumbering believers to God, his holiness and his cross-shaped love. E.g. I have listened to Duncan Campbell’s sermons during the Hebrides revival of 1949 and heard Mary Peckham’s testimony (way back as a young adult in the early 1960’s in my home-city) – they both  mentioned an overwhelming sense of God’s manifest presence, poured out on praying people and the subsequent transformation of society.

How has revival been manifested historically? May I suggest we limit ourselves to the 19th and 20th century ‘awakenings’ – most of us are aware of the great 18th century revivals in England and North America under Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards:

  • As a South African I’m fairly familiar with a revival outbreak in the Western Cape town of Worcester, 1860-1864, under the leadership of the renowned Dr. Andrew Murray. For some years a small group of intercessors had gathered in the town to intercede for its citizens, one of them beating a regular path to a nearby prayer ‘koppie’ (hill) overlooking Worcester. One evening, while Dr. Murray was preaching in the main sanctuary, a group of about sixty young people were singing and praying in a nearby hall. They heard the sound of a strong wind, and all of sudden everyone was on their knees praying and crying, totally unawares of an elder and Dr. Murray himself calling them to order. The result? Fifty young people immediately volunteered to serve the Lord wherever he should call them; farming communities were transformed through prayer around the kitchen table; Dr. Murray began to mobilise missionaries to different parts of the world, including  Malawi in Central Africa (my wife’s forebears were part of that missionary thrust). [BTW, as a result of Dr. Murray’s teachings, there was a missions awakening in my home city in the 1980’s, resulting in local churches sending career-missionaries into Africa and many parts of the world]
  • Then there was the famous Welsh revival of 1904-1905, under the leadership of a young Bible College student, Evan Roberts, who had given himself to prayer for his native Wales. The first impact was on the youth who crowded out church buildings. There was minimal oratory from Roberts but his face visibly shone with the glory of God. People cried out for mercy, sang, prayed and repented. Collieries were transformed, even the underground ponies were left confused by the miners’ loving attitudes and lack of cursing. Pubs and jails were emptied. I recall as a young boy hearing the aged and white-haired Rev. David Matthews, converted during that revival, preach in a little Baptist church down the road from where I stayed. He could recite the NT by heart and wrote ‘I Saw the Welsh Revival,’ of which I have a treasured copy. God gave Evan Roberts a vision of the figure 100,000 – it is estimated that at least that many were converted during those few years.
  • Something different happened at the Los Angeles Azusa Street revival of 1906. God’s instruments included William Seymour and Frank Bartleman [I remember my son driving me down the famous Azusa Street to do some post-grad research at Fuller Seminary]. This revival didn’t impact LA as much as sparking a global outbreak of Pentecostalism centering on ‘the baptism of the Spirit’ and ‘tongues.’
  • A ‘rushing wind’ also accompanied an outpouring of God’s Spirit in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 1907. Presbyterian missionaries like William Blair and others had unwittingly fallen into racial prejudice, and confessed this to the people. In turn the local believers confessed their dislike of these foreign missionaries, especially their sense of superiority. Many were awakened and converted, even amid terrible persecution by the Japanese occupiers and idol worshipers. Sadly, today the North Korean underground church is one of the most persecuted in the world.
  • I’ve already mentioned the Hebrides revival of 1949. Two old ladies persistently prayed for the their fellow-believers, one blind and the other crippled by arthritis. Young men met in a barn to pray and repent around Ps. 24. Many homes were affected, young people flocked to the gatherings in the cottages and public spaces. The sense of God’s holiness and presence was overwhelming. Villages were transformed and even hardened fishermen around the coastline were affected.
  • A particular aspect of the East African revival in Rwanda and parts of Uganda during the years 1929-1970’s, has always fascinated me. As a young believer, searching for something deeper in my relationship with the Lord and confused by some who taught a kind of holiness perfectionism, I was greatly helped by Norman Grubb’s little booklet, ‘Continuous Revival,’ based on his exposure to this move of God’s Spirit in E. Africa. Under the Rwandan Medical Mission, local revivals took place from time to time, touching many, including the renowned Festo Kivengere, author of I Love Idi Amin.’ People practised regular confession, restitution and neighbourly love. The Cross was central, bringing personal conviction of sin, brokenness, confession, cleansing, and then ‘cups running over.’ BTW, these things seem common to most revivals of the past.

Andrew Murray once observed that while most believers may not witness a general or national revival, we can pursue daily, personal revival. The apostle John helps us here in 1 Jn. 1: it’s about a constant ‘walking in the light,’ with God and one another. True revival is both vertical and horizontal. In his Gospel, ch. 15, John taught the importance of the indwelling Christ, our daily abiding in him, with resultant on-going fruit for all to see.

What are some of the dangers besetting spiritual revival movements? I suggest a few:

  • Lapsing into to self-effort, ‘control’ if you like. I tried to find out what happened to Evan Roberts after he went into self-imposed exile with the Penn-Lewis’s. Obviously there must have been some level of physical and emotional burn-out. One writer has suggested that things went wrong when Evan started taking responsibility for the revival’s results rather than leaving them in God’s hands. After starting off so charitably, he apparently became harsh and condemning in his preaching. Did he also fall into introversion? There is always the danger of an unhealthy, rigid introspection among believers. My old Scottish college principal used to say, ‘A healthy person doesn’t walk around all day with a thermometer in his mouth!’
  • Lapsing into legalism of different sorts. E.g. obsession with externals like dress, certain phenomena and leaders rather than the message. This goes right back to Jonathan Edwards’ time. It’s very much with us today.
  • Lapsing into imbalance. A pastor-friend of mine told me years ago of Dr. Maxwell’s dictum (head of Prairie Bible Institute, Canada, whose student-body experienced a powerful prayer-awakening), ‘The hardest thing in the world is to keep balanced!’ I’m thinking of balance between teaching and emotions, head and heart, the objective and the subjective. Let’s face it, God’s heightened presence during revival times cannot be contained by mere mortals for ever – sooner or later life itself has to go on. I think we see this progression in the Acts of the Apostles.

May I ask you to please re-visit this topic, continued in Part 2, where we’ll be asking the all-important question, ‘What might revival look like today?’ Will Jesus and the Bible surprise us?

 

JESUS EATS AND DRINKS WITH US!

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LUKE 22:14-20 (NIV)

I’m convinced Jesus personally eats and drinks with us, each time we as his followers ‘break bread together’ and amid all our celebrations of God’s goodness and kindness in this world! It was said of the saintly Dr. Andrew Murray (renowned South African preacher, author, revival witness and missions mobiliser) that a meal at the Murray’s was like a Communion Service.

Turning to Lk. 22, Jesus’ grace is surely magnificent! Ch. 22 opens with Judas’ sell-out of Jesus to the temple officials, who had been plotting his death all along – hence his secret preparations for the Passover meal with his nearest and dearest (v. 7-13). At the beginning of the meal Jesus declares his ‘eager desire’ (double emphasis in the Greek) to share it with his companions, before his Calvary. ‘You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before my time of suffering!’ (MSG) He’s aware of Peter’s imminent threefold denial (22:31ff) as well as his friends’ squabble as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom (v. 24ff). Nevertheless Jesus enthuses over this last opportunity of table fellowship. So is his grace toward us also, undeserving and broken as we are.

I was also intrigued by Jesus’ linking of the Lord’s Supper with his kingdom. For I tell you that I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God… I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes’ (v. 16 & 18). Note also Jesus’ earlier response to the Pharisees’ question as to when the kingdom would come: The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within (or, ‘among’) you” (17:20-21).

In grappling with ‘the kingdom’ today we have to bear in mind over a century’s ‘brainwashing’ of the Western Church by the unfortunate ‘dispensationalism’ and ‘futurism’ of J.N. Darby (1800-1882), C.I Schofield (1843-1921) and their successors. Thank God that presently, across the globe, countless thousands of serious Jesus-followers have, after wrestling with the text, come to a more biblical understanding of ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ (Mk. 1:14-20, etc). Here’s a brief synopsis of that more biblical understanding…

G.E. Ladd (1911-1982) of Fuller Seminary was one of the first American theologians to seriously challenge the dispensational status quo in that country (‘not much to quo about’?). He did so through his lectures and books which are still in print today. I was introduced to his writings in my seminary days, and I owe him much. Here are some basic definitions by Ladd: “The kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God… and derivatively, the sphere in which this rule is experienced.” “The end times were inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and thus there are both already and not yet aspects to the kingdom of God.” (my bold emphasis)

  • South African theologian Dr. Derek Morphew, built on this – he sees the kingdom as encompassing ‘signs and wonders and social justice.’ The ‘last days’ began with Jesus and Pentecost (cf. Acts 2) and will culminate in his personal return at the end of the age.
  • Influential American pastor Brian Zahnd has also put it simply, “The kingdom of God doesn’t look like… Rome in the 4th century, Byzantium in the 6th century, Spain in the 15th century, France in the 17th century, England in the 19th century, America in the 21st century. The kingdom of God looks like Jesus! Jesus healing the sick, feeding the poor, forgiving the sinner, raising the dead.” 
  • While in no way detracting from Christ’s climactic second coming, the fact is, if we are honest with Scripture, Jesus has ‘come’ to his own in a number of ways since his resurrection. He shared two post-resurrection meals with his disciples (Jn. 21:12ff, a fish-barbecue on the beach); Lk. 24:30ff, a simple supper with Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas in Emmaus Village). This was followed by his ‘coming’ through the Holy Spirit’s person at Pentecost (Acts 2). Jesus’ Olivet discourse on ‘Signs of the End of the Age’ (Mt. 24) is complex, but it assumes an over-lapping of such ‘signs’ and their fulfillment, some signs ‘already’ fulfilled and others ‘not yet’ fulfilled. I’ve often used the childhood game of skidding a flattish pebble across a smooth surface of water – the pebble bounces several times before finally sinking away. Prophecy may be fulfilled a number of times, to a lesser or greater degree. In Mt. 24 many verses were fulfilled with the terrible Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD (v. 1ff, v. 15ff). See my footnote for more details** Other sections have been fulfilled down through Church history, others are yet to be fulfilled.

Back to my opening sentence. ‘Jesus eats and drinks with us each time his followers break bread together, each time they celebrate some or other aspect of God’s goodness and kindness in this world!’ Why? Because he is the King of the kingdom, a kingdom that has come, a kingdom that is coming right now through prayer and obedience, a kingdom that is still to come in full glory at the end of time. Despite the whole world being under the control of the evil one at this time (1 Jn. 5:19), the Lord reigns! My sage old College principal used to say, ‘The devil may have his finger in the pie, but remember God has his hand on the devil’s finger!’

By way of application, Dorothy Day (1897-1980), renowned Catholic social activist among the poor, helps us in the right direction: “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.” There are some imperatives here…

  • Loving God and our neighbour as ourselves (Mt. 22:34ff).
  • Regularly gathering for ‘breaking of bread,’ preferably in a group small enough to really get to know one another and with maximum participation of those present (1 Pet. 2:9-10) (the greater the cultural and social mix, the better).
  • The development of true companionship within the body and beyond.
  • Celebration of God’s many goodnesses around a table, e.g. a birthday, wedding anniversary, etc.
  • Celebration of Communion in public space. I’ll never forget breaking bread with a terminal cancer sufferer, who had just come to faith, in a tea garden. It deeply impacted the four of us plus the young waitress. What about couples celebrating Communion in a park or on the beach front? I have been privileged to celebrate Communion with fellow-believers at the gates of a very poor township school in my city and as far afield as at a Buddhist monastery door in Central China – I believe both occasions were a witness to the curious onlookers and the unseen spiritual powers of Eph. 3:8-11 and 6:10-12.

So c’mon, let’s celebrate in the assurance that the King of love eats and drinks with us at each banqueting table, both in this world and the one to come!

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[Footnote:

** The Siege of Jerusalem (Encyclopaedia Brittanica & Wikipaedia) was certainly a partial fulfillment of Mt. 24. The fall of the city marked the conclusion of a four-year campaign against the Jewish insurgency in Judaea. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus gives detailed information on Jerusalem’s siege and fall. The Jews had rebelled (AD 66ff) because of creeping polytheistic pressures on their monotheism, oppressive taxation and unwanted imperialism. In response Roman Emperor Nero sent his general, Vespasian, to destroy the Jewish forces. By the time Vespasian followed Nero, the former had pushed most of the rebels into Jerusalem. At the time of Passover in April of 70 AD, the Roman general Titus surrounded Jerusalem, allowing pilgrims in but not out. The historian, Josephus, tried to negotiate a peace treaty but failed. The siege depleted food and water supplies within the city, starving many of the pilgrims and inhabitants to death. By August 70 AD, the Romans had breached the final defenses and massacred the remaining population. They destroyed the Second Temple, central to Judaism. Titus was determined to transform the temple remains into a sacred place dedicated to the Roman Emperor and pantheon. According to Josephus (some have criticized his statistics as exaggerated), 1.1 million non-combatants died in Jerusalem, as a result of the violence, ravaging fires and famine. Everywhere was slaughter and flight. Most of the victims were described as peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, but butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured down a river of blood. The bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom. Horrendous but historical fact]