Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pump In Some Oil

New Christians are often great witnesses. In their new found wonder at being saved, they excitedly tell everyone they can about Jesus. Some folk respond to them, many do not. Eventually, their witnessing tends to trail off. Maybe they told everyone they knew and witnessing to strangers is a whole new kettle of fish; maybe the frequency of being shot down has rubbed the shimmer off of things; maybe taking care of all the things that require their attention has distracted them; maybe they just aren't as excited about Jesus.

Life is what it is, and folk are what they are. Our interactions with life and people can act like air and water in the oxidation process-- they seize us up in rust and tarnish and we no longer move nor are moved by what we used to be. All that our anchor is holding, is us back. Some things will never change, people and life won't, but we can, and nothing changes the already initiated, but somewhat calloused, like revival. It is the oil can that gets the tin woodsman chopping again.

The Great Commission will never change, at least not until the end of the age and Christ returns. The Holy Spirit, continuing what Jesus did while he walked upon the earth, is still out and about seeking and saving the lost. If we are walking with Jesus in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we will be out and about seeking and saving the lost as well. To be with him where he is, is to be doing what he does. He's marching in purpose down the road: it's time for us to pump in some oil and catch up with him.

Addendum: A nice exploration of a similar subject, as well as here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On the Road to Emmaus

In the Wizard of Oz, the dramatic tension breaks when the curtain is pulled back by Toto, revealing a rather ordinary old geezer behind all the pyrotechnics and bluster. The shivering dread of the Wizard melted, and after some explanations, turned into familiar friendship-- no more curtain, no more distance.

I fear too many Christians have a Wizard of Oz relationship with Christ. He's not a real figure to them; only a scary voice that sounds strangely like John Hagee, infused with ultimate cosmic power and somehow projecting from a lifeless symbol screwed to a cross and hanging on a wall. But what about that guy walking on the road to Emmaus with a couple of disciples, or that fella making breakfast for his buddies after a morning of fishing? What about the reality of the old hymn:

And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

We presume a lot in the American church. We go to altars with tears and foreboding, confess all that's not right with us (at least in summary form), invite Jesus into our hearts (?), and then press cruise control and go on with life, eternal life insurance now safely in hand. I don't know how we convince ourselves that all this works, when the first time God gets a little too close and a little too real, we're scared witless and want to run away. Let revival break out, Ichabod be replaced by Ebenezer, and those who worship brass saviors on sticks will howl the loudest about emotionalism and excess.

We have a real God, not a fake wizard. He was dead, but is no longer. Although we remember him until he comes again, he is not relegated to live only in our memories. We ought to be walking with him and talking with him now. As excited as the first disciples were to see him alive again, to know that the passion wasn't the end, but only the beginning, so too we ought to be excited, enthused, and passionate about walking with and knowing intimately a living Savior. Does knowing Jesus, the King of Glory thrill your heart and capture your imagination? If not, personal revival is needed and, thankfully, can be found somewhere along the road to Emmaus.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sail in the Breath of God

The one thing most essential and yet most feared in revival is the Holy Spirit. People have been misinterpreting the signs and symptoms of his presence from the beginning of the church age. His activity and influence are often seen as excessive, ecstatic, and irrational. I guess I'd be reticent about embracing something causing those reactions too. That's not what's happening in revival, but why is the Holy Spirit's influence often mistakenly perceived as raw emotion or irrational foolishness?

One possible answer is that the Holy Spirit, moving among us, makes God tangibly real. That is a spooky, scary proposition for sinful mankind. It has been since the beginning of the human race. God at walk in the garden wouldn't seem a frightful image, but sin distorts perception and makes us cower in fear away from a very approachable God. Even more frightful is when he shows up at the camp in power. His presence, all too real, is overpowering, so we'd rather let someone else deal with him. We'd rather stay comfortably in the bushes, capable of ignoring him from our lair, able to go on with life unaffected. Religion doesn't seem to make one any less likely to adopt such an approach. The religious always fight revival-- better to classify it as emotional excess, so that it can avoided proscriptively and dismissed if it should sneak past resistance and break out in some quarter.

Another possible answer is the human desire for control. That too has been around since the beginning of sinful humankind. It's not consistent though-- folk will let anything and anyone lead them down the primrose path, as long as it's not God. When we do follow God, we tend to adopt the boxed variety, not the One who can meet us up close and personal and rock our world. Emotions can be difficult to control, that's why big boys (what I was told when young) and big girls (thanks Fergie and Frankie Vale) don't cry. Don't let that tiger out of the bag! Equate revival with emotionalism and the rationale of suppression is turnkey ready.

To step past the cherubim and see God, and walk with him in the garden, we are going to have to humble ourselves and let God be God whatever the consequences. Control is an illusion we have to be disabused of. It only keeps God from being real to us and us from being real with him. What's needed is sensitive men and women, unafraid to sail in the breath of God.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thanks, I Needed That

The interaction of Christians sometimes looks more like the chaos of an explosion at the fireworks plant than it does the choreographed wonder of a fireworks show. Nonetheless, Christians alive in the Spirit are vessels of fire, and God wants to put them on open display for the world to see. Revival is about the rekindling of that fire: too often it ends up being about chaos. Why? Let me suggest that in the excitement of personal experience we forget about the benefits of corporate fellowship. We forget that iron sharpens iron. Everything is NOT intended to go smoothly between us, but what does goes between us should make us smoother. Let's look at some of the collateral processes that accompany fellowship and which work to bring out the best in us.

We grow by rubbing off on each other. In a three stranded cord there is some friction, yet in staying together, despite the rubbing, that rope's strength is multiplied. Friction is unavoidable, separation is not. Another believer's imperfections are never a reason for us to discard him or her, nor are ours reason to hide from him or her. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."

We cannot get any sharper without some grinding. To improve our edge, rust and grit, unevenness, and even notches have to be whetted down. The simple fact is, none of us can do that alone. It takes at least two hands (in the naval sense) and a little oil to get 'er done. We don't have the judgment to see our own flaws for one thing, and we don't have the capacity to sharpen ourselves for another. It takes another tool. We have to be willing to accept the Spirit directed benefit of someone else grinding on us and subject ourselves to it. All criticism from a friend can be constructive, if we keep our egos in check.

I can shave myself, most men can. Some of us find it relaxing, however, to let a barber apply a hot towel, brush up a good lather, and then skillfully wield a just honed straight razor to scrape off all that uncomfortable stubble that marks our manliness. To be honest, the thought of someone else holding a razor to my throat kinda freaks me out! However, if one is to experience the sharpening of appearance and the release of tension that a really close shave delivers, he is going to have to trust the man with the blade. Trusting another to improve your countenance through his or her sincere counsel leads to that refreshing splash of aftershave that says I'm ready for life.

[Slap, slap from the medicine cabinet] Thanks, I needed that!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bring on the Wooden Spoon

It's humid today in Pennsylvania, downright soupy. In fact, the air's so thick, if God was minded to, he could drop a big wooden spoon out of the heavenlies and give everything a good stir. Maybe that's just what we need--a heavenly stirring! A whirling breeze exchanging the stale for the fresh, the energy of air on the move, roiling up the grace of new savors throughout the pot. As much as a change in the weather of wind and air would be nice, a change in the weather of Spirit would be even nicer.

Am I longing for revival? Perhaps, but there are some drawbacks that make me pause. Revivals have occurred frequently throughout the age of the church, so much so, that we can look at their characteristics and make some observations. There are some negatives!

Revivals fade. Generally speaking, they last for for about 3-6 years, and then, in about the same amount of time, whatever impact they've made on society has vanished, like the Titanic on the northern Atlantic. It might have been a big deal while it was afloat, but there wasn't even an oil slick marking it's passing shortly thereafter.

Revivals spoil the taste of their participants. Like candy does before a meal, revival makes everything else, even of substance, seem tasteless. The intensity and excitement of the revival experience hooks the desire of the participant like heroin does the addict. Afterwards ennui sets in, and the one revived becomes bored with, even critical of, the taste of life in the interregnum between revivals.

Revivals infect people with a self-centered spirituality. Participants become like kids in an amusement park. They bounce from one thing to the next looking for a bigger thrill. Experiences are compared on the basis of the thrill delivered. Preachers transform into carnival barkers, cheerleading about the rush to be felt at their meetings. Some turn into reverse-engineers trying to replicate and improve the thrill gotten at another venue. Spirituality riding on a roller coaster!

Revival displaces Jesus as the object of one's affections. Idolatry pure and simple: some of the "revived" relish revival more than they do friendship with Jesus! Their eyes on not fixed on the author and perfecter, but on the next possibility of revival.

Then, I look up from this soup, flicking my hands in frustration, spattering the world around me with goo, and realize just how badly we need a stirring. Our biggest thrill should be knowing the King of Glory personally, as a friend, rather than the gifts he lavishes on us, but we're thrilled with little if anything at all. Something's gotta change!

We could use some renewing:
1) a new start of obedience;
a fresh dedication to sharpening one another;
a new sensitivity to the Holy Spirit;
a new enthusiasm for knowing Christ personally;
a new hunger for making Him known to others.

All things being equal, I guess my hope is, after all, that God would bring out the big wooden spoon and stir up a revival.

Friday, September 7, 2007

There Is Hell!

It is often said by detractors and non-believers that a loving God would never send people to hell for eternity. They do not say that because of their experience of the loving God, but in my view, because of their lack thereof; perhaps, even more so, because of their indifference to that loving God, and what he reveals readily to all who dwell on planet Earth. The scriptures state,

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Romans 1:18-20 (NIV)

In this passage, we are informed that we can know what God is like through the things he has made. Not only can we discover those touchy-feely attributes that give us warm fuzzies: God is a gracious provider, a wondrous artist, and a master engineer, but we also discover those scary attributes: God is not like us, he is willing to keep us at arm's length, his anger brings dire consequences. Some may ask, "how can you learn of those scary things just from the creation?" To which I would answer, "look at life."

What about our existence doesn't reveal that God takes exception to the human race? Disease wracks the rich and poor, the just and the unjust, virtually everyone indiscriminantly. God certainly has the power to do life differently, but it is what it is, and it tells us something. Good people, nice people, even godly people drown in floods, are crushed in landslides, or dragged out to sea, or are tossed like ragdolls in the wind. How could anyone think that a God who allows all of that in life would promise anything better after death? For all anyone knows, it could well be worse!

And then there is death itself. Everything dies, not only the living, but stuff too, it's called entropy. We can remain indifferent to God, never pursuing the knowledge of him, or more importantly, a friendship with him. We can remain at arm's length throughout our lives, such as they are, but what do those lives as we live them portend? The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven, but what is it SCREAMING AT US IN BOLD CAPITALS? I hope it's telling you to flee the fullness of that wrath which is yet to come. I hope it's telling you there is a hell (and it needs to be avoided).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Non-devisive Doctrine

A common argument heard from cessationists is that continualism, in it's many shades, is a divisive doctrine that splits churches and separates brothers. I remember, however, hearing one of my former pastors and one the the best preachers I've ever heard, preach from the Book of Acts concerning the unifying nature of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the concomitant manifestation of tongues (click this link for a sample of Rex Bornman). He noted that people of all classes, cultures, and languages were brought together, not by common doctrine, but common experience. What would have taken only God knows how long (if ever), through discussion, committees and findings, occurred almost immediately through experience, and no one got the glory but God!

As an Arminian, I have had enough encounters with Calvinists, who assume they have found the be all and the end all of truth in the so called doctrines of grace, for me to suspect that Calvinism was something that would keep its proponents and myself from ever getting along or pursuing ministry together in harmony. Then, I encountered a phenomenon that I had not before-- Charismatic Calvinists. Whereas we don't share some fundamental doctrinal distinctives, we do share experience of God the Spirit. That, in and of itself, allows us to truly acknowledge each other as brothers and to cooperate with each other in the advance of gospel ministry and the search for practical truth.

Furthermore, I have found this true not only for other doctrinal differences, but also for cultural and linguistic ones as well. When people share the same experience of the Holy Spirit, walls of division and hostility break down. Black, white, American, Asian, African, rich, poor... regardless,
being baptized in the Holy Spirit and then experiencing signs and wonders brings folks together. By my reckoning, it is not acceptance of continualism that breeds division among brothers, but the insistence of cessationism. I would wager that I have more in common with a charismatic Calvinist than I do with a cessationist Arminian. So, Cessationism causes fellowship to break with the one who comes into the biblical experience of charismata; whereas Continualism, on the other hand, is truly the non-divisive doctrine!