February 24, 2012

Glory in the Church

From the long-ago bygones a simple tune lingers. Mr. Chamberlain was an unlikely song leader. His audience—a dozen young Greek students. Hardly the context for singing but he was so intent on getting across the extravagance of the Greek text’s meaning that he taught us a song that still floats through my head today. “Huper ek perissou. We will see what God can do… “(OK, so I don’t remember any of the rest of the words, but the message has stuck over all these years.) The idea is taken from Ephesians 3:20—“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”. In the Greek an unusual compounding of words is used to stress the lavish nature of what God can do—‘exceedingly abundantly above’ all we ask or even think! Incredible.

What I have tended to miss is the point of this power at work in us, as used in this context.

Paul has just been talking about his calling to make known the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ to the Gentiles—this good news which had only recently been revealed to mankind. It had been a mystery not fully understood up until this age of the Church—now it is unveiled. But catch this, Paul says this unveiling isn’t just for us, the redeemed ones, but that through the church the principalities and powers in the heavenly places will see God’s multi-faceted genius! (Eph.3:10) This is what the power at work in us is for—God’s glory.

Paul goes on to outline the plan, you might say, starting with the reminder that as believers they now have unhindered access to God. Then he prays for spiritual strength to be given to them to really ‘get’ the tremendous dimensions of Christ’s love for them—the breadth and length and depth and height of it. Why? So that they’ll be ‘filled with all the fullness of God’ so that corporately, as the ‘church’, they will bring glory to God before all the hosts of good and evil in the heavenly realms. Incredible.

I can see how that might be true of the New Testament church, at least the very early church? But it seems Paul wasn’t referring just to the early era of the church, or even of some future era where it would be especially beautiful to behold...His benediction tells me that this is God’s intentions for you and me in our modern mixed-up and sometimes floundering churches. Unto him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Eph.3:21. And I’m encouraged. We too have all the resources needed at our disposal-- through the Spirit living in us and the access granted to us into God’s throne room. No hocus-pocus or hyper focus needed, just prayer—and a great big God who is able to do abundantly above all that we could ever think to ask! This is Good News!

Why have we let it become so complicated? There are all manner of distortions of the Gospel ‘out there’—all sorts of quests to find ‘power with God’, to get a special dispensation of ‘His presence’, to figure out some way to tap into ‘supernatural power’ that will make the world see we are something to take notice of… But here Paul just prays and makes a simple request for a profound revelation of God’s love which will fill them with the ‘fullness of God’. Is there more than that?! The Gospel itself is said to be the power of God for salvation to everyone that believes (Rom.1:16) Have we mislaid it? Have we misunderstood it?

For ages and generations the Gospel was a mystery even angels longed to understand (I Pet.1:12) but we in the Church age have been let in on the secret: “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col.1:27) If we fail to grasp the implications of this power at work within us, this love extended to us, and this hope prepared for us we will reflect it poorly to our neighbors and more than that, we will be easy prey for false teaching.

Just as satisfaction with one’s own mate is the surest safeguard against infidelity in marriage, so godliness with contentment is our safeguard against enticing teachings that promise us a degree of reality and power that we haven’t known. Without strong confidence in the present and sufficient work of God in our hearts through His Word and by His Spirit, we can be drawn into deceptive short-cuts that will undermine that very relationship.

An affair is enticing. It promises passion and relief from the steady humdrum of committed relationship; it makes one feel deceptively ‘alive’—but it doesn’t deliver. Its passion is short-lived and then comes the aftermath… Could this be what John meant when he concluded his epistle with the plea: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” He has just underlined the things we know to be true by way of reminder: “We know the Son of God is come and has given us understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life!” (IJn.5:20,21) It’s as if he’s warning: ‘Accept no substitutes!’ We can become so intent on ferreting out some secret key to effective life and witness that we trade in the essentials of the Gospel for the ‘fix’ of a sensational teaching or a ‘new’ set of ‘truths’.

Deception doesn’t come in a marked package. It’s more like a refreshing drink laced with antifreeze! If it were unmixed with truth it would not be deceptive! Its messengers don’t come across as ‘devils’ but as ‘ministers of righteousness’ (II Cor.11:15). Its appeal may be a deeper spirituality, a greater passion, a more powerful witness…but if it veers from the foundational truths of the Gospel—of Christ in you the hope of glory-- it is a heady brew that will bedazzle and blind us, but leave us ever thirsty for MORE. Godliness with contentment is great gain.(I Tim.6:6)

Have I taken a rabbit trail here and jumped on a soapbox? What does this have to do with the glory of God being displayed in the heavenlies through the genius of the Church—a host of redeemed creatures, transformed by the power of the Gospel?!

Everything! When we turn aside from the Gospel and follow false teaching in hopes of finding something more to satisfy our longings, we actually harm the cause of the Gospel. “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (II Pet.2:2) It happens. Noone sees these lapses more keenly than those who already regard our faith with suspicion and skepticism.

Are we immune to being misled? I read somewhere that if you think you are above deception, think again, you’ve already been deceived! It’s easy to see somebody else’s blindspots, but not so my own. How then do I safeguard my life from deception? Even in my zeal to cultivate a healthy relationship with my Hero I can pursue the wrong means.

There are plenty of Bible passages that describe and warn against false teachers…(I John, IIPet.2, Jude 1, I Tim.4-6…) In fact, I started to amass a list of characteristics of false teachers but then I came back to Ephesians and found this…once again, the genius of the Church:

Paul describes the living organism of the Body of Christ, with all its various gifts given to build up the whole ‘until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’. Why is this so essential? So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ…”(Eph.4:13-15)

We need each other and the unique God-given contribution of each to keep us on track. Isolation is a hazard as are clumps of noses with no eyes! Or bodies without hearts, or kidneys! The Body of Christ reaches beyond our denomination, or our small group. Often we settle comfortably into fellowships that suit our gifts. Could it be we’re missing the complementary parts of us in our congregational segregations? Doctrine’s important. Distinctives are dandy. But it’s good to take a peek into another’s window and get to know the left hand of the Body, or that little pinky toe. Practically, how does this work…

Start a prayer walk. Join a hobby group. Attend a Bible study from another church. Visit churches in your area and enjoy the fellowship that happens just because we belong to the same Family. Encourage/get involved in inter-denominational initiatives in your community… I don’t know how it will work for you. But I do know that we need each other in order to grow strong and steady. We’re designed that way.

And this is where the glory of Christ’s church shines--—all these redeemed earthlings exalted to sonship and immortality, corporately comprising the very Body of Christ, their head, --a concept the angels long to comprehend (I Pet.1:12), a spectacle to the unseen hierarchy in the heavenlies (I Cor.4:9), a testimony to God’s brilliant wisdom being worked out meticulously down through the generations and now glimpsed in the Church age. And still the plan marches on. Still ahead lies our ‘hope of glory’ (Col.1:27) Only in the coming ages will ‘the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’(Eph.2:7) be fully shown. Only then will we be fully like him, because at last ‘we shall see Him as He is.” (I Jn.3:2)

Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
Things that are not now, nor could be,
Soon shall be our own.

In the meantime we, the church, in allegiance to our Head bring Him fame before all the powers of heaven and earth…as we cling to Him who is the Head “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Col.2:19) Which brings us full-circle to another of Paul’s prayers counting on the Power that is at work in us who believe… I find myself praying it often, for myself, for my kids, for other members of this great Body we share…

“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  that he worked in Christ
when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And he put all things under his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of him who fills all in all
...” (Eph.1:17-23)


Thanks for listening. I more than welcome your feedback.


“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. AMEN.” (Jude 24,25)

P.S. Interested in thinking about how different kinds of believers can integrate to minimize their weaknesses and maximize their strengths?  Check out The Word and Power Church by Doug Banister. (Review available here.)

February 16, 2012

Escaping the Womb of Self


Sometimes words are so aptly put that they seize you with conviction and you find your head nodding in assent. Such were these by David F. Wells in his rather scathing review of modern evangelicalism:

Our is a ‘Christian faith that is conceived in the womb of the self’ rather than in the forge of God’s truth. Compared to historic Christianity, ours “is a smaller thing, shrunken in its ability to understand the world and to stand up in it…Where the self circumscribes the significance of Christian faith, good and evil are reduced to a sense of well-being or its absence, God’s place in the world is reduced to the domain of private consciousness, his external acts of redemption are trimmed to fit the experience of personal salvation, his providence in the world diminishes to whatever is necessary to ensure one’s having a good day, his Word becomes intuition, and conviction fades into evanescent opinion.  Theology becomes therapy, and all the telltale symptoms of the therapeutic model of faith begin to surface.  The biblical interest in righteousness is replaced by a search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, truth by feeling, ethics by feeling good about one’s selfThe world shrinks to the range of personal circumstances; the community of faith shrinks to a circle of personal friends.  The past recedes.  The Church recedes.  The world recedes.  All that remains is the self.
(No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, pp.172,182-3)

I haven’t read the book yet though I read an extensive precise here  and my interest is definitely piqued! Wells has written with scholarly passion for nearly twenty years warning the church of its dangerous departure from solid theology in favor of a worldly self-focused pragmatism. I ordered my first sampling of his books today!

But, about this quote…does it ring true to you? I’ve been reading and re-reading it for several days now and I admit that at first I read it with a smug “Yep, I see that (in others)”. But it didn’t take more than a little reflection to realize that this self-styled form of faith has fingered its way into my life. I have been shaped by culture as well. The pre-occupation with self that pervades the world and makes self’s pleasure the measure and motive for just about everything…has crept into my life.  The question must be asked:  Who is at the center of my universe?

Imagine a universe where we are gods. Where our pleasure is of paramount importance—after all God wants us happy (doesn’t He?), and our concerns are what matter most (aren’t they?). Just as God declares who He is and what He wants us to know about Him in the Bible, so we have Blogs! And like frogs in a world-sized frying pan we have warmed our egos to a deadly temperature quite far from the manufacturer’s specifications. It’s so cozy in here that it’s hard to see how far we’ve come from a God-centered faith. David Wells summarizes our contemporary evangelical generation: “Where we should expect, for all the opportunities we have for hearing God’s Word, a vibrantly repentant, gloriously sanctified, humbly serving, boldly outspoken, and energetically activist community, instead we find a religious people stretched out on the therapist’s couch, endlessly fixating on their personal needs and hurts.” 

The question is, how do we get out (or stay out!) of this frying pan and take our proper position as creatures designed for God’s glory and pleasure above all else?

That’s the question I’ve been pondering today and here’s what I have to offer. First of all a new-to-me Twila Paris song came to mind. It ran through my head yesterday driving and later, exercising...the refrain says: “One small sacrifice—I give you all my love, I give you all my life—a token for a prize, that never could be worth the honor you deserve…” (from her “Small Sacrifice” 2007 album) The song succinctly puts my life’s significance in perspective by contrasting it to God’s own sacrifice. I am indeed not my own. I’ve been bought with a price. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service”  was Paul’s way of saying it and by his own life he exemplified this expenditure of His life for God’s glory:

“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” Phil.2:17NASB

What does that look like for a 21st century home-maker with a dwindling supply of offspring to launch into the world? My body a living sacrifice… Could it be that faithfulness in the small things is what’s required? The meals, the schoolwork help, the housekeeping, and the trips into town for orthodontic appointments….Today I made a quick trip, just time to run to the mall and get some recyclables refunded before picking Rachel up again… but in this tiny bit of errand-running I ran into three different people I know… one standard ‘How are you’ turned up the unexpected news that Al has just been diagnosed with ALS. Already his speech is slurred and his hand affected. He can see the end of his life rushing toward him but hopes that God will spare him. He is a believer, but now has contact with others with ALS who don’t know the Saviour… As a fellow member of Christ’s body, what do I have to offer Cal that will leave him refreshed as though he’d just passed by a spring of living water? Or the young mom battling persistent cancer whom I ran into on the way into the Dentist’s office…what is there to say? I came home keenly aware that for me opportunity comes in little unexpected chunks—and that I have need to be overflowing with something other than ‘self’ if I’m going to have anything to offer at these moments.

This morning I had a chance to dip into Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality. In a chapter expounding the implications of our salvation, past, future and present he made this statement: “Whatever is not an exhibition that God exists, misses the whole purpose of the Christian’s life now on this earth.…We are to be living a supernatural life now, in this present existence, in a way we shall never be able to do again through all eternity” –a life that is by faith, not yet having seen Jesus face-to-face. He goes on to say that Christians are to be the demonstration to the world that the normally unseen world does exist, and more than that, that God exists. (True Spirituality, 72). How do we do  that? At some length Schaeffer amplifies on the experiential, moment by moment reality of living as the bride of Christ, letting the Bridegroom bring forth fruit in me through His indwelling Spirit, by faith. The reality of the resurrected, glorified Christ working through us is the supernatural life we are called to live out…

I confess, this is  far more theoretical to me than I would like. But I’m eager for it to become more and more the reality in which I live. I love Mary’s story—when the angel came pronouncing her assignment—you’ve been chosen to bear the Son of God… In a distinctly different sense this is true of every believer. What a daunting idea! Flesh and blood to show Christ to the world. She could have run in panic or balked in unbelief at the preposterousness of such a thing. But instead she said: “Behold, your handmaid—be it unto me according to Thy Word.” (Luke 1:38) No exertion of her personality or any amount of energy could accomplish this thing. But she could offer herself, a living body, into God’s hands to do with as He would. And so she did.

As self is yielded up with all its members ‘as instruments of righteousness’ (Rom.6:13) I escape the womb of self and Christ lives through me. That’s what I want—a life yielded and expectant, looking to God to accomplish with my lifestory what I could never do by myself.  Then mine will be a story that shows Him to be the reason for life, the universe and everything!


“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

February 10, 2012

Wrestling with God

I’ve long puzzled over Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with God and for the past couple weeks I’ve turned it over and over in my mind and looked at it from every angle I can see (as if I were the referee!)… in hopes of extracting the essence of it for my own life.

Is it a model for prevailing prayer?  A template for securing God’s blessing?  Or is there more to this story than meets the eye in its sparsely told format?

Up to this point in Jacob’s life there has been little to commend him as a man of faith.  He has lived up to the meaning of his name mostly, and has struggled with everyone in his life in order to secure himself a blessing.  He’s been a cheat and a conniver, looking out for his own interests and enjoying the blessings of God without acknowledging God as His rightful Lord.  He has spent the most productive years of his life living in exile from his own family, putting in slave labor for his uncle, being cheated and taken advantage of himself but always rising to the top, always making things work out… and now he has a big family, two wives, and a whole lot of progeny, not to mention flocks and herds. He left home with just a staff and now he’s returning with his own entourage…

Yes, he’s returning at last. This was God’s idea.

But years ago when he set out on this journey he had made a promise—granted it was an unabashedly conditional, ‘Jacob’ sort of promise—but a promise it was.  God had ‘seen him off’ on his journey with a vision by night in which He said: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. … and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen.28:13) Jacob was awestruck by God’s presence and made a sort of altar out of his stone pillow in the morning, christening the place, “Bethel” (house of God), and vowing that if God would keep him in food and clothes and bring him safely home again that he, Jacob, would make this God his own God. 

And now here he is, almost home.  But this is scary. The immediate dilemma in Jacob’s mind is that his presumably embittered brother, Esau, is on the march with 400  men. Jacob could lose everything, including his own life. But there’s another One he’s been running from. This God to whom he vowed allegiance has not forgotten Jacob’s vow at Bethel. He loves Jacob far too much to let him go on living by his own strength. And when Jacob has taken every last measure he can think of to gain his brother’s approval, and has sent his loved ones across the stream ahead of him…when he’s all alone at last, God shows up.

I love this about Jacob’s story. It’s really a story of God showing up, intervening, blessing, protecting, and guiding Jacob’s life in spite of himself, to a point where he will rest from his conniving and let God be God. It’s a story of God pursuing man. It’s our story… But I run ahead of myself.

The details of the all-night wrestling match are sparse. A ‘man’ wrestles with Jacob until morning light. Jacob refuses to yield until his hip is dislocated and finally, clinging on for dear life he declares “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  (Gen.32:26) Who does he think is in charge?  Who’s not letting who go?  It seems to me that it is God who has initiated this match and God will say when it is finished. 

Hosea’s commentary on this event helps: “The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways…He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us… Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.:” Hosea 12:2-6

I see a picture of a repentant Jacob finally yielding to God’s power, finally willing to admit that he really does need God’s blessing. He has found that ‘place of repentance’ that eluded his brother Esau.  God, like a kind Father has brought him to repentance, first matching his strength till he is spent, then with a mere touch dislocating Jacob’s hip…all to bring Jacob to the point of crying “Uncle!” (or could we say “Abba”)?  Or as he puts it: “ I will not let you go until you bless me”.  Jacob acknowledges that he is dependent on God’s mercy.  He cannot coerce God to bless him but he desperately needs what only God can give him--a new name, a new allegiance…God has orchestrated this moment. 

It is not so much Jacob’s persistence that is to be lauded, but his crying out with the last of his strength for God’s mercy--recognizing that he is beholden to God for everything, even life itself.

“It depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy.” Rom.9:16

All night long God has hung on to Jacob awaiting his surrender, like a Father feigning weakness as he ‘wrestles’ with his toddler,  but this is no game.  God knows what Jacob needs most, the blessing of forgiveness and acceptance despite all he has done. He needs to be rightly related to this God as his God. A precious thing transpires at this point. God asks him a question that seems so obvious as to be silly. “What is your name.”

Long years ago Jacob had been asked this very question by his own father. And he had answered with a lie, the consequences of which have dogged him down through all these years and brought him full circle to this moment. He had said ‘I’m Esau’ to procure his father’s blessing. And now he is here, a grown man pleading for a blessing from the God who has brought him to this moment for that express purpose.

But first he must confess his real name: “I’m Jacob” (the cheat, the deceiver, the usurper). And God is pleased to bless him with a new identity. He has come to the end of his struggling and will now bear the name Israel, denoting his life-long struggles with man and God, but also that “God Perseveres”. And I start to see that this is not so much the story of Jacob as it is that of God’s mercy and unrelenting love, carrying out all He has promised. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Rom.11:29  Jacob, now Israel, goes from this encounter, a reconciled man—finished with his struggles with God and with man. First chance he gets he buys up a parcel of land on which to pitch his tent and erect an altar.  And guess what he calls it?!  El-Elohe-Israel—God, the God of Israel.

His story gives me hope…for this God is my God.  This God is the One who holds me in the night of my fears for myself and my family.   When I struggle to work things out myself, He reminds me it’s His game plan that matters.  When I question ‘Why did you make me like this?!’ He reminds me that He is the Potter and that’s no way for clay to talk…When I see how weak I am, He reminds me this is the best place for His strength to be on display…

Ah, which reminds me.  There was another conversation God had with Jacob.  The night of wrestling was past.  The reunion with Esau had gone splendidly.  And God told Jacob to build an altar at Bethel. There God answered the question Jacob had asked of Him on the dark night of their wrestling: “Please, tell me your name.” Gen 32:29 

God answered, "Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name…And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply…” Gen.35:10,11 The introductions were over. God Almighty is now the God of Jacob and Jacob will in turn  invoke this name to bless his own sons and their sons (43:14) just as his own father had done for him. 

The story of Jacob at this point gets all but buried in the narrative of Joseph’s life. Jacob grieves the loss of his favored son Joseph until he is surprised beyond belief at the announcement that Joseph is alive and ruling in Egypt—a literal God-send for his family’s preservation. Life in God Almighty’s care goes beyond anything he could have schemed or dreamed up for himself. And so he grows old in the land of Egypt. But do you know what he is commended for in the great Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11)? It is not for his ‘power with God’ in that long ago wrestling match. It is not for his big family. He is commended for the faith expressed in his dying breath as he blessed the sons of Joseph bowing in worship on his staff. (Heb.11:21)

This was his blessing:

"The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." Gen.48:15,16

How was this an expression of faith? Here are these two Jewish/Egyptian lads, Manasseh and Ephraim,  being reared in a pagan culture, but Jacob is confident that God Almighty is well able to take them and weave them into a great nation as He has promised. Jacob has traded in his wrestling for worship, his self-confidence for faith. And so he is commended for his faith not in wresting a blessing for himself, but in passing it on…

I’ve been magnetized to Jacob’s story for two weeks now, perhaps because I see my own propensity to struggle with God to bless me and mine, as if He were not faithful, as if all depended on my faithfulness…As if the struggle were requisite to the blessing.

One morning early last week I was bemoaning my perceived woes, filling my ‘quiet time’ with rankling memos in my journal of all that is not right in my little world…It was time to put on the teapot and fix breakfast and still I could not see God’s truth through my self-absorbed fog. At that moment I was reminded of these words from Isaiah: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” And a little farther along in the same passage, “The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Is.30:15,18) Old familiar verses freshly applied to my heart.  They are the story of Jacob’s life and the requirement for my own.  It is not in the struggle that I prevail but in repentant rest and quiet trust. And when I cannot see the blessing that is promised, it is the waiting that will be blessed.


"So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God." Hos.12:6

“We do not present our pleas because of our righteousness but because of your great mercy.” (Dan.9:18)

“O Lord, be gracious to us;
we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
Our salvation in the time of trouble.”

--I know this has been long but there are two songs that beg to keep company with Jacob’s (and my) story.  Take a few minutes to bless the God of Jacob as you listen:

In Christ Alone [Click title to listen]

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease

My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

Songwriters: Julian Keith Getty, Stuart Richard Townend


My Saviour, My God[Click title to listen]

I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed, what God has planned
I only know at his right hand
Stands one who is my savior
I take him at his word and deed
Christ died to save me this I read
And in my heart I find a need
For him to be my savior
That he would leave his place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You count it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my savior
My Savior loves, my savior lives
My Savior's always there for me
My God he was, my God he is
My God he's always gonna be
Yes, living, dying; let me bring
My strength, my solace from this spring
That he who lives to be my king
Once died to be my savior
That he would leave his place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You count it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my savior
My Savior loves, my savior lives
My Savior's always there for me
My God he was, My God he is
My God he's always gonna be

--Aaron Shust’s adaptation of the original by:
Dor­o­thy Green­well, Songs of Sal­va­tion, 1873







February 4, 2012

Revive us Again


OK, so I’ve  thrown my energies this week into reading and reviewing a couple books so I can start on the fresh stack I picked up at Missions Fest over the weekend… I realized I still had a book I’d picked up there last year but not yet read.  So it’s now been read and underlined in, reviewed and regurgitated for your perusal at: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.com/2012/02/azusa-streetbartleman.html

It’s called Azusa Street (by Frank Bartleman) and is the account of the revival there from 1905-1911 that birthed the Pentecostal Movement.  I picked it up out of curiosity I guess, to know what exactly did happened there. The church I grew up in was birthed at very nearly the same time so I wanted to see if there was any connection.  We’ll let the old bones lie.  The connection wasn’t a friendly one.  Those were controversial times for sure.  Churches and theologians were polarized over the revival.  Was God in it?  Doubtless.  Was everything sensational attributable to His Spirit.  Not likely.  But as I picked through the author’s observations trying to separate fact from opinion I realized he had a lot of wise insights to share based on the glories and the pitfalls of revival as he’d experienced them. 

Let me whet your appetite with a few pertinent quotes:

“Nothing hinders faith and the operation of the Spirit so much as the self-assertiveness of the human soul, the wisdom, strength, and self-sufficiency of the human mind.”(76)

A true Pentecost will produce a mighty conviction for sin, a turning to God. False manifestations produce only excitement and wonder. Sin and self-life will not materially suffer from these.” (91)

Any work that exalts the Holy Spirit or the gifts above Jesus will finally end up in fanaticism.” (91)


As we headed down the highway to Missions Fest I read the final chapter—a fascinating epilogue entitled “Revival and Recovery”, written by another author, Arthur Wallis.  In it he offers a panoramic survey of the major operations of God’s Spirit in the history of the church, with a view to demonstrating that the purpose of God in each subsequent renewal is not only to revive the church of that generation but to recover some truth that has been lost that will equip the bride to fully experience and fully express the life of Christ to the world.  He proposes that “since truth and experience are inseparable and must be in balance if either is to reach its divine objective, we see the Lord moving to emphasize either doctrine and principle, or purity and fullness of life and power.”  (149)

Then commencing with the early church he cites the characteristics of God’s working in each era.  The early church gave us the New Testament and the model for  walking in the light and correcting error.  It thrived in persecutions.  

The fourth century brought the church under official favor and a spiritual decline set in as the church came under pagan influence and an ecclesiastical hierarchy not based in Scripture.  She descended into the dark Middle Ages until true Christianity was almost extinguished, but for a giant of faith here and there.  There were no widespread movements and ‘for a whole millennium the tide of spiritual life continued to recede.” I tried to imagine how different it would have been to live at this time.  What would my understanding of God be like?  What would my life be like without the Word of God to anchor it?

The Fourteenth Century came ‘round and the revolutionary idea that the people should be able to know God’s Word.  England’s only Bible was in Latin!  Enter, John Wycliffe’s translation into English.  The recovery of true Christianity commenced with the return to the Word of God.

“Poor Priests” called Lollards took off with this word in the following century until half of England were either Lollards or sympathetic to their teaching.  Life had come to hungry people.  The way was being paved for…

The Sixteenth Century brought the Reformation under an unlikely poor priest, Martin Luther.  Other reformation giants arose to free the church from bondage to works and introduce salvation by faith.  There were still plenty of traditions to shake but they got the ball rollling.

In the Puritan movement of the seventeenth century “God raised up expositors, men mighty in the Scriptures”.  They emphasized the importance of being grounded in the Word.  Two church movements stemmed from their work:  The Congregational Movement rejected ecclesiastical hierarchy in favor of local church autonomy.   And the Baptist Movement added to this believer’s baptism by immersion.

By the eighteenth century the emphasis on doctrine to the neglect of ‘life’ had led to corruption in leadership and immorality and blasphemy in the culture.  England was saved by the revivals under Wesley and Whitefield.  The Methodist Revival brought a threefold emphasis—instantaneous salvation with assurance of the Holy Spirit, a strong focus on the subjective side of faith, i.e.holiness of heart and life, and the realization that formal education wasn’t essential in order to preach the Word of God. Multitudes were saved.

By the 1800’s revival was again wanting.  Multiple smaller revivals occurred, among them the Brethren Movement emphasizing the sufficiency of the Bible for daily life and church business.  To balance the emphasis on positional truth came the revival of 1859 in England and a great wave of evangelistic and missionary work across denominational lines.  The Salvation Army was born.  The Keswick ‘deeper life’ movement came into being with its proponents: Andrew Murray, Hannah Whitall Smith and Jesse Penn-Lewis and others.

Then with the twentieth century came the Welsh Revival and the birth of the Pentecostal Movement emphasizing the filling of the Spirit and the still active gifts of the Spirit to the church.  The author points out that there were excesses and separatist tendencies that caused this movement to be alienated from the rest of the Church.  Developing in isolation its bent to substitute the Spirit’s empowerment for thorough Bible study, weakened its potential.  Arrogance of superior experience sometimes slipped in to further the alienation from the rest of the Body.  However the author cautions against discrediting the whole movement based on its weaknesses.  It continues to make an enormous impact worldwide. 

And so we come down to our times.  Having surveyed even briefly what God has done down through the history of the church Wallis says, “we should not think that any movement has recovered everything, or has consummated the process. The attitude of ‘we have it all’ has all too often characterized the more enlightened of God’s people.  In fact, the more light we have, the greater the danger of falling into this trap.  This is spiritual pride and inevitably results in the halting of  further spiritual progress.”(160)*  Gulp.   With these and other warnings the author proceeded to knock me off my sometimes flighty horse.  Good to put my feet back on the ground and consider how to be ‘cautious without being critical' and ‘discerning without being destructive.’  Who am I to tell the Almighty how He should do His work? He is the Potter.  I’m a lump of clay for His purposes… More and more my heart cry is to be all He has for me to be, nothing more, nothing less.  Isn’t that what revival’s about?


Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.
--William P. Mackay, 1863


[*The epilogue by Arthur Wallis was excerpted from his booklet entitled “Revival and Reformation of the Church”.  My comments were drawn from pages 147-167 of Azusa Street by Frank Bartleman.  For the full review go to: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.com/2012/02/azusa-streetbartleman.html ]