Monday, 23 February 2015

Why I no longer pray for revival

This post is part of a Synchroblog for the month of February on the subject of 'Renewal'. Check out the list of contributions from those who participated at the end of this post.

I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city…so two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied. - Amos 4:7-8

I once knew a godly man who had his alarm set to go off at a certain time every day. Whenever that alarm went off he would drop whatever he was doing and go and pray for revival. As far as I am aware this went on day after day and year after year until the time that he passed away in his old age. But while I greatly admired his discipline, perseverance and obedience to his convictions, I cannot say that I feel the same way about revival. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see the lost coming to Christ in their droves and I am a believer in the gifts of the Spirit and desire to see churches flowing freely in them for the edification of the body. But still I have my reservations about revival meetings and here is why.

Revivals never last

Every revival that you have ever heard of lasted about as long as Milli Vanilli’s moment in the spot light. The Welsh revival, Azusa Street, Asbury College, the Jesus movement and the Lakeland Revival (should we even be counting that last one?) all ended as suddenly as they begun. I am always reminded of the words in 1 John 2:19, “If they had been of us, they would have continued with us”. People who try Jesus in the same manner they try going to the gym every year for three weeks before Summer arrives are like the seed that fell on the stony ground in that they receive the word with joy but as soon as the going gets tough they fall away. Not that everyone who was involved in those movements fell away, many of them are today still faithfully serving Christ. But revival meetings do not show us who Christ’s followers are. All the hype and emotion that they bring attracts a crowd like Jesus' feeding of the 5000 did and it is easy to get caught up in all the excitement of the moment. After miraculously feeding the multitudes Jesus could have continued with his ‘signs and wonders’ meetings as the crowds started to swell but instead He followed it up with a teaching (about eating his flesh) that caused nearly everyone to walk away from Him (John 6).

There is a possible exception to the rule here though in what has taken place in the Chinese House Church movement for the last 60 odd years. China has been described as experiencing revival by some and it continues to gain momentum. Perhaps it is because the Chinese House churches have not focused so much on revival meetings, charismatic preachers or the health and wealth gospel but rather they have emphasized Christ and discipleship instead. It is hard to disciple people when we are hosting meetings night after night for fear of the hype that has being built up losing its momentum if we were to break for a while.

Staying Christ centered

Revivals always have a name attached to them and it is not Jesus. It is generally a certain preacher or faith healer who heads it up and the movement lives and dies with them. We refer to the anointed one (literally the Christ) as the man on stage or the bands powerful music. Focus tends to get lost and our prayers are often centered on personal spiritual encounters or personal needs (which do have a place, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water) rather than on the Kingdom of God.

We also like to attach the name of a location to our revivals. Come to Brownsville, Toronto or Lakeland. I am not saying that the Holy Spirit does not show up and do incredible things through certain churches because I am pretty sure that He does. I do find it weird though that we feel we can catch the Holy Spirit like the we pass on a flu virus. All we need is to find a city of infected people and God will do the rest. Jesus taught the woman in Samaria who inquired as to where the correct place to worship God was that the true worshipers did not go here nor there but worshiped in 'spirit and truth' (John 4:20-24). Similarly in Luke 17:20-23 Jesus taught us that the kingdom is within us. If Jesus is doing something great in another city then it may be beneficial to visit there and report back to your local body. But what they might have is freely available to you as well no matter where you reside.

Some peculiar things

There are a few other things that I find strange as well. What are we seeking that we have not already being given? 2 Peter 1:3 says “…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue”. And why do we associate Gods moving with big, loud and emotional events? Jesus taught that the kingdom comes like a mustard seed not like a rock show (Matthew 13:31-32). Lastly and perhaps most alarmingly, why do revivals always end with segregation? In the aftermath of every revival we find new Christian splinter groups formed leaving the body of Christ looking like a stitched together Frankenstein monster.

Revival or Renewal?

This post has been a bit negative up to this point but I would like to offer something positive in closing. Only dead things need to be revived, the Church may be struggling, she may be run-down and perhaps even broken but she is not dead. It is my conviction therefore that the Church is in need of renewal rather than another revival. Revivals will come and go and people will throw their crutches away and then they may or may not get a new pair a few days or weeks later again. But renewal will transform the Church long term, of this I am certain.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. – Romans 12:2

So this might be a first but let me suggest that we rather start praying for renewal in our meetings. If you have no idea what that looks like, read the rest of Romans 12, it may not be as glitzy and glamorous from the outside but getting that right would transform the Church completely!

Other participants:-

Abbie Waters – It is Well with My Soul
Done With Religion – Renewal
Mark Votova – 30 Ways the Church Can Find Renewal
Jeremy Myers – I am Dying … (So I Can Live Again)
Phil Lancanster – The Parable of the Classic Car
Susan Schiller – Renewal by Design
Glenn Hager – Repurposed
Clara Ogwuazor-Mbamalu – Renewal of the Spirit
K. W. Leslie – Those who wait on the Lord
Lisa Brown – Momma’s Kick Off Your Shoes and Stay For A While!
Jenom Makama – …Like An Antivirus
Leah – Renewal!
Liz Dyer – Put Your Mask On First
Peggy – Abi and the February 2015 Synchroblog – Renewal

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Mysteries of God

This post was written by a dear friend of mine, Jaco Truter, who is a part of the group of believers that I break bread with every Sunday. I wish I could point you to his own blog but for the time being such a place does not exist. He shared a message on the mysteries of God similar to the one below last week and I asked him if I could have his notes and share it with all of you over here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


The grand narrative of Gods relationship with man as set out in the bible, details a definite sense of progressive revelation from the Old to the New Testament. Such grand doctrines as the Trinity, the New Covenant and God personally being the salvation of His people are all seen in the shadows of the Old Testament yet it is only in the New that we really see them in full color.

One such set of shadows hidden in the deepest part of the heart of our God are the Mysteries…

Consider the following scriptures:-

…I (Paul) became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God. The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. – Colossians 1:25-28

…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. – Colossians 2:2-3

In Paul’s gospel (as revealed to him by the Lord Jesus), Christ is revealed as the Mystery of God.
Yet it does not stop there; in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in chapter 3:1-6 we see the Church revealed as the Mystery of Christ and in Ephesians 5:30-32 it is clear that union with Christ is the Mystery of the Church (see also 1 Corinthians 6:17). This is illustrated in the diagram below.

But there is yet another mystery to be revealed and this one is the real linchpin as all the other mysteries are revealed in this one…

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew, for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. - 1 Corinthians 2:7-8

1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-24 and 2:2 reveal that God has achieved all that He planned in His eternal purpose through Christ crucified, foolishness to the world, but to those who believe, the great power of God to salvation. Read those scriptures below and let them really sink in.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

"But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

"For I determined not to know anything among you except Christ and Him crucified."

Note that these mysteries are the expression of the true wisdom of God, which is foolishness to the unregenerate:-

…Teaching every man with all wisdom - Colossians 1:28
…are hidden all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge… - Colossians 2:3
…we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery… which none of the rulers of this age has understood… - 1 Corinthians 2:7-8
Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God... - 1 Corinthians 1:24

Paul sums these four great mysteries up in Colossians 3:3 but in the opposite direction to that revealed in the diagram above.

For you have died and your life is hidden in with Christ in God.

“…for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ…” equals the mystery of the church.
“…hidden with Christ…”  equals mystery of Christ.
“…with Christ in God…” equals mystery of God.

And what exactly is the grand purpose of these mysteries?

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. - Colossians 1:27

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory - 1 Corinthians 2:7

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him - 1 Corinthians 2:9

When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory. - Colossians 3:4

Saturday, 14 February 2015

A Living Alternative

If you are a regular reader here you should have noticed the “A Living Alternative” ad on this page before. The book was written by a bunch of my online Anabaptist minded friends from the MennoNerds group which I am affiliated with. Although I personally have no official association with Anabaptism outside of the MennoNerds network; it is an expression or tradition within the Christian faith which I have discovered mirrors my own personal views regarding how this thing called the Christian life is to be lived out. I have gained much by reading Anabaptist writings and the testimony of the original 16th century Anabaptists is truly inspiring.

Anyway, now that I have finally finished reading the book for myself let me tell what I thought about it. Firstly, it is a collection of 20 essays over about 300 pages written by twenty different people. reading the book could be likened to a certain degree to how I experience fellowship when the church that meets in my house assembles together. Everybody brings something unique to the table, some people open up and share from a very personal place within while others tend to be very academic and have the ability to make a seemingly insignificant portion of scripture come alive with meaning and beauty. And then there are others still who never seem to share a lot of 'info' yet they encourage and inspire with the fruits that are evident in their lives and stories.

A Living Alternative has this kind of a feel to it. Some people like Chris Lenshyn and Steve Kimes take a look back at the history of the church (something that really appeals to me) to remind us of what the church once looked like and where it may have wondered off the path. Others like Drew Hart and Deborah-Ruth Ferber remind us of the value of those persons and people groups whom the church has often ignored and even oppressed and that their voices are equally importanat and vital to the life of the church. Tyler Tully shares in his chapter how the scriptures were compiled and written (the OT in particular) and how they should therefore be understood and interpreted (this chapter is probably best read slower than the other chapters and may need a few extra reads to be fully digested). Several others shared on very specific topics such as the importance of community and an outward focused church, hospitality and the gifts of the Spirit. Benjamin Corey contributed a great piece as well which really just highlighted Jesus as the centre of all that Anabaptism stands for.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were the chapters on hospitality by Hannah E. Heinzekehr and Deborah-Ruth Ferber’s chapter on being a single person in the church and her thoughts regarding celibacy. Robert Martin’s chapter on ‘Starving the Beast’ was also a great read which looked at how kingdom people can offer a tangible alternative to the systems of oppression and power which the empires of the world operate by. I could not help but think though that Roberts chapter could just as easily have substituted the words government or empire with the word church and it would still be frighteningly accurate. This is an area where the Anabaptists and organic churches can be a real example to the rest of the church. Showing how, under Christ’s headship, there is no need for abusive hierarchies as we learn to “submit ourselves one to another”.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially to those who perhaps have grown up outside of the Anabaptist tradition as it really covers all of the fundamentals of a faith centered on Christ that will be able to withstand the coming waves that a Post-Christendom world is and will be throwing at those of us living in a Westernized culture. I am not saying that everyone should become Anabaptists but rather that there are treasures within the Anabaptist tradition that almost all other groups have lost sight of and could benefit from. It is a genuine alternative to Protestant and Catholic or left and right wing religion. In all my years growing up in Protestant churches how is it that I had never heard the word praxis before? I can honestly say that, while I did not agree with every single word written in the book, every contributing author has brought something of value to the volume of work which I could take hold of and apply in my own life. If you want to find out more about A Living Alternative click on the image of it in this article and if you want to read other articles and blogs by the authors go check out the MennoNerds by clicking over here. In closing, let me leave you with 2 of my favorite quotes from the book. The second one in particular really resonates with me:-

“I value the Holy Scripture above all human treasures but not as high as the Word of God, which is living, powerful and eternal, and which is free and unencumbered by all the elements of this world.” - Joanna Harader quoting Hans Denck

“(The Anabaptists) Protested what they saw as halfway measures taken by Luther and other magisterial Reformers in purifying the church of Roman Catholic elements. There ideal was to restore the New Testament church as a persecuted remnant as it was in the Roman Empire before Constantine. To them, the magisterial Reformers were all stuck in Constantinianism and Augustinianism. These were the two main diseases of medieval Christianity that the radical Reformers wished to eradicate from their own independent and autonomous congregations, if not from Christianity itself.” - AO Green quoting Roger Olsen

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The one about the open letter to those writing open letters about what is wrong with the church.

Recently there was a blog post doing the rounds on the internet which was getting a lot of shares on facebook and other social media sites. If you want to read that post you can do so over here but the basic message it conveyed was that people should stop saying what it wrong with the church and being critical of its faults and simply trust that she is beautiful and that God is sustaining it.

I feel that the author of the original post has made several flawed assumptions in her post. Number one is the confusion between what or who the church is. The post takes exception to all of the criticisms being made relating to church programs, whether they are relevant and if our Sunday meetings are too flashy or not quite flashy enough. One quickly realizes that the church being spoken of in the article is not the people who make up the body of Christ on earth so much as it is the Sunday morning service which is made up of professionals, volunteers and spectators (this definition of church includes attendees who may not be born again as well). While I cannot speak on behalf of everyone who has voiced concerns with some of the things that take place in church halls across the globe I can say that I personally believe that one can maintain a high view of the bride of Christ while still calling her to pursue holiness as well as challenging some of our liturgical traditions.

The second area where I believe that the post has missed the mark is in that it paints a picture of people leaving or criticizing the church as being disgruntled, disillusioned or just downright selfish. This is incredibly sad to me as I have personally experienced the rejection, condemnation and judgment that comes with pursuing Christ outside of the institutional church. And I have since spoken to dozens of people who have gone through the same things as they have sought to follow Christ into a deeper reality of ekklesia and community. Many of the people that I know who have left the institutional church have not done so for selfish reasons but have done so specifically because they wanted to start gathering around Jesus. Many of them have had lies spread about them and have lost many friends for seeking to follow the Shepherds voice.Those who believe that the church should pay no attention to what people who are asking questions or are on the outside are saying may be surprised if they just sat down and listened to some of the stories from those on the outside which brings me along to point three.

There is a sad irony in a reasoning that says one should not mention the churches flaws but then turns around and says that it is okay to criticize the people who have grown tired of or who are simply questioning the methods and practices of the church sytem. The church is not bricks, pews, programs and liturgy but the people who have been joined together in Christ regardless of where they meet. So when you are critical of the people raising flags and start calling them spoiled, selfish, consumeristic and biblically lightweight; it is actually you that is being critical of the church.

The last point that I would like to make is that the bible itself makes a case for open letters addressing what is wrong with the church. Paul wrote the Corinthians a letter to address their immorality and lack of brotherly love. He wrote an open letter to the churches in Galatia who had fallen for the false teachings of the Judaizers. He wrote a similar letter to the Colossians who were polluting the true gospel by mixing it with legalism, Greek philosophy and mysticism. Jesus himself had a message to the seven churches in Asia Minor which was delivered through John in the book of Revelations. Jesus did not feel the need to bite his tongue when he repeatedly said to those churches, “nevertheless I have this against you”.

Yes, she is His bride and yes, He loves her and gave His own life for her. But as many as He loves He rebukes and chastens. Certainly, His words and those of the other New Testament authors who wrote addressing the churches problems did so with a view toward building her up and correcting her path. And I will concede that not all of the criticism that has been laid against the church has been done in a spirit of love. So yes, before throwing our 2 cents in about what is wrong with the church we should all be prayerfully considering just exactly what our motives are for doing so. But sticking our heads in the sand and saying that it’s all good regardless of our fruits is spiritual suicide. Let us examine and prepare ourselves for Him.