2. A World at Peace?

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 2. A World at Peace?

Zech 1:7,8a  On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo. During the night I had a vision

Timing: In verses 7 to 17 we move into the first ‘vision’. You have dreams when you sleep, visions while you are awake. A vision is a picture that fills your sight. In the vision there are persons, things and words. Three months have passed since Zechariah’s first ‘word’, a word without pictures. Now we are going to have picture visions that convey truths. All the visions that come now, seem to come on the same day, they flow on one after another until in chapter 7 we see that his next revelation comes two years later. Why the gap? We aren’t told but we come to realize visions only come when God brings them and we must suppose He brings them when He sees the time is right for a particular revelation to be brought. Maybe two years pass to give time for the visions of the first six chapters to be absorbed. Often we can receive a word or picture but the understanding of it takes time to come.

The Picture Setting: The vision comes and in it Zechariah sees certain things. If you stand before a painting, say, you first of all take in just what is there before you. So he writes, “there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.” (1:8) So you stand before your picture and there are figures in it, and questions arise: “I asked, “What are these, my lord?” (1:9a)

Now before we move on we have to acknowledge that in the framework of a vision everything is not always spelled out neatly, hence the need to ponder on it. There is one man on a red horse and at least three other horses it would seem, but what is to be implied is that these horses carry riders. Whether there are just three or that there are lots of horses of mixed colors is debatable. Some commentators in the past have sought to infer meanings in the colors. They are in an area of myrtle trees which is apparently a beautiful shrub or bush with beautiful flowers and leaves that give off a rich scent when ‘bruised’. Thus, some have suggested they are a picture of the church and we have a picture somewhat similar to that of Rev 1 with the lead rider being the Son of God – but that is all commentators’ speculation.

But there is something else that is confusing. In this vision there are various figures: first the lead rider in verse 8 who is simply described a ‘a man’, but then we now read, “The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.” (1:9b) Suddenly we find Zechariah, as he gazes on this picture has an angel interpreter standing alongside him. But then it is the leader rider who gives him his explanation: “Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.” (1:10) Zechariah may have entered the vision, as we sometimes enter a dream, stepping straight into the scenario where, in this case he is talking to an angel, but it is the lead rider who is clearly the one in authority. So the other riders have gone out and come back and reported to the lead rider who is now described as “the angel of the Lord”. Again commentators debate whether this is simply a senior angel or the Son of God. But what is important is the message they bring: “And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.” (1:11) This is the first major and significant thing in this vision – the earth appears at peace. Hold on to that because suddenly the focus changed.

The Divine Cry: We next see it is ‘the angel of the Lord’ who appears to cry out in anguish: “Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” (1:12) This brings us right back to the present situation in Zechariah’s life. Jerusalem is still a burnt wreck, the land is still devastated from the plundering of Nebuchadnezzar’s army decades before – and yet the rest of the world seems at peace; no one seems to care, they are just happy with their lives, but what about God’s people, what about the Temple that is only part rebuilt, what about the glory and honour of the Lord? Now I have called this paragraph ‘The Divine Cry’ because angels on God’s business share God’s heart and therefore, even as prophets catch God’s heart, so do His angels serving Him. “So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.” (1:13) God comforts the lead rider as if to say, “I know, I feel as you do, but it’s all in hand!”

Anger: Now comes the message that is to be declared: “Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’” (1:14,15) The Lord explains, first, what He feels. It’s like He is saying, Jerusalem is mine and always has been, the place where I have put my Name, and I am angry with the nations that I used (yes I used them!) who now feel at peace and are unconcerned about my people. I had been angry with Israel who rejected my word again and again, but I am more angry with those who were unrestrained in their actions bringing my punishment on Israel.

Action: So now the Lord goes beyond His feelings to what He will do: “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty. Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’” (1:16,17) He will ensure the Temple is rebuilt, He will ensure Jerusalem is rebuilt, and He will ensure the towns of Judah are re-established and will prosper again.

Summary: So within this little cameo, the Lord’s messengers, His angels, report a world at peace while Jerusalem and God’s temple lie in ruins and the land remains wrecked. The Lord reveals His anguish over this situation and His intent to restore the Temple, Jerusalem and the Land. It is a word of hope and a word of restoration that faces the anguish of the state of the Temple, the City and the Land as it is at the moment.

Application: Before the revealing of the 2020 Pandemic, I would suggest that in many ways the world was at peace. This is typified by an example I came across recently. In the previous study I referred to the Calvers’ book ‘Unleashed’ all about the story of Acts. On one hand they acknowledge the good things the church is doing: “Here in the UK Christians are making a huge impact through ministries such as Christians Against Poverty, food banks, and Street Pastors and Angels. The church runs the majority of toddler groups, much of the nation’s youth work, and remains pivotal on the ground.” It all sounds good, but Gavin balances it with an encounter with an old friend, “one who was such an encouragement to me in my early years of faith,” and who he describes as having been one all out for God who would talk passionately about his love of the Lord. Now, many years later, both in their early forties, he reflected, “Today’s conversation was different. He was still speaking animatedly and enthusiastically, but it was not about Jesus. It was about his new patio.” He pondered, “What had happened in the last couple of decades to see godly, eternal passion transferred to concrete in gardens? Why do we keep bumping into Christians our age who are more evangelistic about their kitchen than they are about Jesus? How is it that there is seemingly more inspiration for life in the pages of the Ikea catalogue than in the Bible? When did everything become so safe?” He expands on how our lives are taken up with getting and enjoying at the expense of the kingdom of God.

If that is an accurate assessment of so much Christian life in the West, and I believe it is, then the ‘peace’ that reigns is deception. Is that why the Lord has allowed Covid-19 to ravage the world? Is it a preparation, a time of challenging the hearts of men and women, in preparation for revival? In the previous study we cited R.T.Kendal, who speaks of how we have tolerated what is going on in the church and what is going on in the world.  In the past century of so we have, around the world, experienced various moves of God: Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906, that brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s, that brought a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function and role of ‘the body of Christ’ as formed and created by the Spirit, and so on (there are others) – but they are largely now just ‘history’.

These special times seem like glimmers of light from the past that have now been diffused into the life of the Church where, for the most part, they appear to have lost most of their power, their life, their spontaneity and their vitality that came with them originally. It appears that in the West at least, the world seems to have half drowned the Church and the potential of all these moves of God have been either forgotten or simply dissipated. Consider again my description of the church I suggest the New Testament shows is on God’s heart and ask again how that matches your experience? Has God allowed Covid-19 to shake up and change the Church to match His heart? Are we alert to that?

45. Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 45. Q.7 Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

Hab 1:2,3,5    How long, Lord, must I call for help,  but you do not listen? …. Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? …. “For I am going to do something in your days  that you would not believe, even if you were told.   

Hab 2:1  I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me

The Questions:  There are times when things happen on the earth which should raise questions in the wise – what is happening, why is it happening? The arrival of Covid-19 in the early part of 2020 is one such thing.

Habakkuk’s Experience: Habakkuk was a prophet, ministering, probably just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586/7, who looked at the unrighteous state of his nation and asked God, “Why, why do you put up with this?”  When the Lord said He was going to bring disciplinary judgment on his people by bringing the Babylonians to deal with this nation, this left Habakkuk amazed and confused. His response: I’m going to have to go aside and listen and watch to see what He will say.”

God and Judgment (For detail go to my link ‘The Judgments of a Loving God): How God brings about a particular judgment is in some ways irrelevant. In Job we see Satan allowed to come against Job and he does it initially by stirring up the Sabeans to plunder his goods (Job 1:12-15). Howe did Satan do that? Did he make them attack? Only, I suggest, by whispering in their ears that Job was a good target. How did the Lord fulfil His word getting Nebuchadnezzar to attack Israel? Only, I suggest, by getting one of Satan’s emissaries (see 1 King 22:20-23) to go and whisper proud thoughts to him. God doesn’t need to make people do evil, He just lets Satan stir their already sinful attitudes to go that way.

Covid-19?  Is Covid-19 a judgment from God? How did it start? As one website puts it, “The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site.” It would also appear there was a Chinese doctor who warned about it but was disregarded. Careless workers plus disregard by the authorities? Sounds like the work of the enemy allowed, we have to say, by the Lord. But why?

The Effects: Consider what has happened. The world has ground to a halt, economies are under threat, proud authorities are lost as to how to deal with it, and relatively few numbers have died (over an above those who would have died in the northern hemisphere winter anyway.) Mankind has been humbled and people shut off from their usual activities given time to reflect on life. Discipline? Most certainly.

But Why? Well, what was God’s intent in bringing Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem? To discipline and humble the people, to stop the ongoing sin of idolatry that He had spoken against for so many years through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to cleanse the people of their sin to prepare them to return to the Land with a new outlook. What, if we are right and God is behind it, even if it is simply Him standing back and letting the sinfulness of mankind bring it about, is He seeking to achieve through it? Well of course only time will tell but what we have already noted might give us a clue: mankind is being humbled and people given opportunity to pause up in their lives and ponder on the important things of life. For some time now, various voices from around the globe have been hinting at the possibility of God coming with worldwide revival and such as this would appear to be a way of preparing people’s hearts to receive Him. The ministry of John the Baptist may be what should be the ministry of the Church to the world at the present time. Check out Isa 43:3, Mal 3:1, Matt 3:3 and see if they speak to you.

Revival or Renewal: But  I find a question rising in me, an uncertainty if you like: does God want to bring Revival or would He prefer to bring Renewal? We need to understand the difference and then listen carefully. Revival, history shows, is God coming in sovereign power for a limited period of time both inside the Church AND outside it bring in a great harvest of the lost. Renewal is where God comes by His Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the Church.  Restoration tends to refer to a restoring of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit. If we have renewal and restoration together we have a reinvigorated ‘body of Christ’ that is equipped, empowered, and envisioned to continue to work of Christ as we have never seen before.

Christ’s Calling to the Body: Consider what Jesus said of himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” (Lk 4:18,19) and “report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) As we have seen previously, Jesus sent out the twelve to do these things, then the seventy-two and concluded with an ‘all-church’ commission: “go and make disciples of all nations… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) having already declared, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

How to Pray: Praying for Revival is easy: “Lord, please come and sovereignly do all the work.” Praying for Renewal and Restoration is harder: “Lord, please come in the power of your Holy Spirit to bring us together and equip, empower and envision us to be the body you called us to be so that through us you can reach this world – that you have prepared with this virus – with your power and your revelation.”

And So? Uncertain about the days in which we live? Pray.  Uncertain about God’s intents? Pray. Uncertain about your availability? That is down to you, your act of will, just declare it and make yourself available to Him, not only to pray but to be available to do whatever He wants to do as we pray. Amen? Amen!

37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

Jn 3:8   The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

Acts 4:8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…

Acts 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 11:24   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Be at Peace:  As I have suggested before there are often fears and doubts and uncertainties about the Holy Spirit which the Lord understands but simply warns us against speaking wrongly of Him (Mt 12:31,32). To deny the work of the Spirit is to deny God. But uncertainties are understandable, but it is the way we respond to them that is important. I testified in the previous study how I foolishly experienced the Spirit moving, backed away from it, yet was graciously drawn back in repentance to receive again. The Lord looks for hearts that are open to him, even if they are uncertain. Be at peace in all this.

Uncertainty is Natural: If a leader like Nicodemus (Jn 3) was confused, don’t be surprised if we often get confused. To take Jesus’ analogy about the wind, many of us feel fearful simply because don’t know when He is going to turn up and what He might do. We live in a world that teaches us to be in control so it is natural to be nervous when God turns up and takes control out of our hands. It is natural but we are not called to be natural, we are called to be supernatural. We are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we are to live not by human wisdom but by Holy Spirit and scriptural guidance.

Effects: I want to finish these reflections about the uncertainty of the Spirit by noting the fruitfulness that comes when we allow the Spirit to lead, inspire and empower us. In the previous study I used the analogy of a son growing into his father’s business as a picture of what God wants for us, and when we see the things He says He expects of us, we realize that these are things we cannot do by our own ability.

Boldness: Using our verses above, in Acts 4  when Peter is brought before the authorities we see him, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” (v.8) and Luke surely means us to see that it was because of this that he could answer them fearlessly and proclaim the Gospel. In Judges we have seen the Spirit come upon people to make them bold and courageous leaders. When we are filled with the Spirit there comes a new freedom to stand up and be God’s people. At the end of Acts 4 when the church are praying, the Spirit comes on them all and they were all filled so that “they spoke the word of God boldly”. (v.31) We desperately need some Holy Spirit boldness to speak into the world today.

Characteristic: When a problem of administration arose in the church in Jerusalem the instruction of the apostles to the other believers was, “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) The experience of being filled, that results in visible changes in a person, was apparently obvious in the early church. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) If you referred to someone as a ‘Spirit-filled believer’ you were saying there was something about them that stood out – a freedom in God, a love and joy in the Lord, and often wisdom – that could be seen! There was no wondering. Shortly afterwards we read of Stephen, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (v.8) Is this what caused the enemy to stir up opposition against him and yet, “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (v.10) This opposition was to lead to him becoming the first Christian martyr. But see all those things describing him: full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs, speaking fearlessly with great wisdom, and able to face death fearlessly. This is the life potential for those “filled with the Spirit”. If the modern church cannot live up to these descriptions, is it because we use the words but don’t experience the reality of the Spirit?

Similarly in Acts 11, Barnabas was described as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24). He was the man we know as an encourager (v.23), the one who drew Paul into ministry (v.25,26), who clearly was a significant teacher (v.26b)

A Quick Glimpse at History: We are sometimes not very good at understanding church history but let’s conclude this study with a quick refresher in respect of history and the Holy Spirit. It is said that you can find throughout the two thousand years of church history, little pockets of believers who were open to the Spirit but the so-called Azusa Street Revival, in Los Angeles, that started in 1906, brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, which had already started to be considered in some ‘holiness churches’. Pentecostalism was born resulting in the formation of Pentecostal churches & denominations which spread worldwide. This teaching and experience restored the Holy Spirit to His proper place, but mostly stayed within Pentecostal churches

That is, until in the 1960’s when a change came which someone described as, “individual believers seeking the Father for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Out of his came a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function, and role of ‘the body of Christ’.  The Charismatic Movement was born with personal Spirit-filling and gifting, and our place within the body, being taught and experienced in new ways. Unlike Pentecostalism the charismatic movement did not create new denominations but Spirit-filled believers continued their experience within their existing denominations.

In the 1990’s a new wave of Holy Spirit activity burst out across the world with the phenomena referred to as the Toronto Blessing, where the Spirit, sovereignly it seemed, broke in on individual believers as they gathered and brought a new joy and a new freedom to the people of God. It was not revival and mostly did not appear to stir evangelism into being. It was first and foremost a restoration of the wonder of being God’s children.

Now we may not have been around and experienced these times of blessing but the truth was that in each case new life poured into and through the church. Each of these were different from revival which is a sovereign powerful moving of God inside and outside of the church to bring fresh life to believers and a harvest of souls into the kingdom.

And Us?  Wherever we stand, whatever our experience of the Spirit and whatever our feelings in respect of Him, one thing in today’s world and today’s church is obvious: we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether He comes in revival sweeping all before Him sovereignly, or whether He comes in renewal and reinvigorates His Church to be what He wants it to be, is down to Him and we will have to wait to see. In this again there is uncertainty. There are signs in all that is going on in the midst of the world activities that the Lord may be getting ready, thus Isaiah’s (Isa 4:3-5 Msg) call is appropriate:

Thunder in the desert!  “Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.

How can we put it even more clearly?  Speak into this spiritual desert, this wilderness that is the modern world. Put your lives right for God is coming. Do all that needs doing to set your life right so that there is no hindrance in it to prevent Him coming and working in and through you. Clean it up, get rid of things you know would not bless God when He comes, fill in what is missing in your life and experience, and open up your heart to receive all He has for you, and then look for the coming of His glory.   Amen.

5. Problems with Religion & Revival

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 1 – Falling Short?

5. Problems with Religion & Revival

Matt 16:18   I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Isa 8:20 (NKJV) To the law and to the testimony!       

Where next? Other challenges? Well, there are two worrying extremes of which we ought to be aware.  A consideration of Samson will help us focus.  Now Samson was born and lived in a time described in Judg 13:1 “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.” Now I am not saying that the church is like Israel were back then. That description more aptly fits what is happening generally in the West at the present time. I have best heard Samson described as a ‘carnal charismatic’. That simply means he was someone who was out for personal pleasure while moving in the power of the Spirit. (It is interesting to note that God used him for His purposes, by His Spirit, despite his carnal appetites! That is not to be used as an excuse for our own worldliness though.) Now there are two ‘extremes’ if I may put it like that, whereby the ‘believer’ disregards the apparent call to holiness.

The Nominal ‘Believer’: The first of these is the person who purports to be a Christian but who has never, to use Jesus’ language, been ‘born again’ (see Jn 3 and a later study). These are people who ‘attend church’ but who know little if anything of the life of God in their lives. They are ‘religious’, apparently devout and even pious, regular church attenders for whom the words of the preacher mean little but words. They have never yet been convicted and so have never repented and never made a profession of faith, receiving Jesus as their saviour and as their Lord. In fact, words such as ‘born again’ and ‘repentance’ and ‘salvation’ are considered by them to be the language of religious zealots, the ‘over-enthusiastic’ or even the ‘super-spiritual’. Prayer is for formal times, during liturgy, before meals, at funerals and so on. Bible reading is for church services.

These people need to be confronted with the truths of the New Testament and the realities of the Christian faith. If Sunday morning messages are gentle little homilies, happy little talks rather than the robust declaring of the Gospel and the call of God to the holy life, ‘religion’ remains convenient; it also tends to remain out of the boardroom and workplace. Having been an observer of the diverse church over the years, I believe there are many who fit the descriptions of this paragraph and for that reason, apart from the others we have considered so far, we need to be quite clear in our minds what is required of a believer, what it is that makes a person a Christian, part of the Church, and the sort of life they are called to.

In Days of Revival: Now it may appear bizarre at first sight, to be considering revivals as the second of the two extremes that I referred to, but as we will see, we must consider what happens so often. The student of revivals know that they are not the same as an evangelistic meeting, which has often been a description in the States, but a revival is a sovereign move of God in power where conviction falls on individuals and crowds sovereignly, a mighty move of God. The charismatic movement in the back quarter of the twentieth century was not a revival. A revival is a sovereign work of Almighty God, a time when God turns up in sovereign convicting power. I have used that word ‘sovereign’ more than once because observing the revivals in the Church era of the last two thousand years, that is the primary characteristic of it, as God brings mighty conviction to men and women in numbers that they are sinners and need the salvation that He has provided through His Son.

Now in all my reading of the years of revivals, one of the sad things that is often observable about a revival is that it is of a limited period. It may be a few months or a few years or even a few decades. The fact that it is a sovereign move of God does not mean that the wills of men and women are completely subjugated. History shows that there can be a diminishing of fervour, there can be competition among leaders, indeed there can be a falling from grace, as incredible as that sounds under such circumstances. Another characteristic that can appear is that teaching becomes sublimated into narrow channels to do with the Spirit and the focus can become experience-orientated at the cost of doctrine. The key is to always ensure Spirit AND word, life and experience, and power enhanced by teaching and the word.

Now as I have said previously there may be signs on the earth of revival coming and I know one well-known prophet has prophesied there is coming in our time, not far off, a worldwide outpouring of the Spirit in revival power. Certainly let’s pray for that, for our world certainly needs it. Yet we have to acknowledge what I said earlier, that the Lord does not force revivals to go on and on and on. The lessons come and yet humanity still seems to have a way of forcing itself to the surface, and so initial excesses are accepted and even welcomed, which means men often love the experience and love the power, so that other aspects of living a holy life are lost along the way. Now I don’t want this to sound depressing, simply to help us face reality so that, in so doing, we may prolong such times by seeking that balance I just referred to in the previous paragraph.

Lesser Moves: You may read the two paragraphs above and respond, “Surely not! Surely that cannot happen when God moves in such sovereign power?” There are three answers to that. First, read the history of Israel in the Old Testament and you see a people who managed to get it wrong again and again, despite the powerful presence of God in their midst, especially through the Exodus period. Second, check out Paul writing in his first letter to the Corinthians and you see a carnally charismatic church. Flesh and Spirit.  Third, do you own reading of historic revivals where there has been a mighty outpouring of the Spirit, and make sure you read on to see what happened and how the power was dissipated, and see the human goings-on, that we can only speculate caused that to happen.

But there have been lesser moves of God in our times and I have referred before to the Charismatic movement which was really precious, and the Toronto Blessing movement which tended to be more hilarious than precious, but they both passed. I have also been in a part of the world where revival had been for over thirty years and we can only say that the present church life there was near lifeless and no longer Spirit led.  Sad.

Word AND Experience: When Isaiah used that famous phrase, “To the law and to the testimony”, (Isa 8:20) he was saying, revert to God’s word and the experience of God. We need both; we need the power of the Spirit to impel us forward and we need to word of God to keep us on a right track. In these days when we so often try and make everything so easy, and in the process teaching goes shallow, we need to regain the truth of God’s word that comes through exposition, not dry formal teaching but the truth declared with life under the anointing of God. Awareness of these issues should put us on our guard for the days ahead and act as a challenge to continually be alert to see that we maintain the life and vibrancy that has been known previously.

19. Seasons of Revival

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 19 : Seasons of Revival

Acts  5:12-17    The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.

I commented in a previous meditation that I believe these times recorded in the early chapters of Acts are the equivalent of what, in any other period of history, we might call revival, times when God is moving sovereignly and powerfully. These verses demonstrate this. Oh that we might have such days today! Note what happened.

1. Signs & wonders.The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (v.12a). Now Jesus did say, I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and the apostles are leading the way in that, but it isn’t something automatic because it is only God who does ‘signs and wonders’, yet when He finds those open and available He will do it. Yet there do seem to be ‘seasons’ when the Lord comes in such powerful ways and it doesn’t happen all the time. Yet here were the apostles speaking out the word of God and committed to it regardless of threats to their lives.  Power – miracles – are a clear sign of  revival.

2. Confidence & Fellowship.  Then we find, “And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.”  (v.12b) There was a confidence in the church that allowed it to meet openly, and fellowship and meeting together was important for them. Another sign of the moving of God.

3. Fear of the Lord. Next we see, “No one else dared join them.”  (v.13a) This was the ‘fear of the Lord’ we considered in the previous meditation. When God turns up in power – including in discipline – it can be scary.

4. Public acclaim. “even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (v.13b)  The church received the favour of the people because the favour of the Lord was clearly on them. Although the world was scared by it they knew that what was going on in the church was good.

5. Conversions.Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” (v.14) Salvation is THE sign of revival as God moves sovereignly in the community, convicting of sin and of need for forgiveness.

6. Miraculous healings.  “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” (v.15) We assume that people were healed even by Peter’s shadow falling on them. Such strange things DO happen at such times.

7. The World Comes. “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (v.16)  When this sort of thing happens, the world takes notice and comes looking and seeking. They see here, as nowhere else, there are answers to their needs and so unashamedly they come looking for healing or deliverance – and find it!

8. Opposition. “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” (v.17) Sadly, but understandably, such things also bring opposition – but we will leave that for the next meditation.

The key thing we are looking at here is that all these things are motivated by the power of God being unleashed. Sadly history shows that when these things carry on for any length of time, people start growing used to them and almost treat God casually, and so often dissension and upsets occur, such is the folly of residual sin in us. Perhaps this is why that revivals in history have been short lived. The Lord knows that even if He turns up in power regularly, the old sinful nature eventually takes it and Him for granted. After all, it happened in the early life of Israel, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens in the life of the church. That should not stop us asking for it and doing all we can to be in a right place for the Lord to come and use us, even if it is not in such widely dramatic ways. Pray for that to happen.

31. Be Pure

Meditations in 1 John : 31 : Be Pure

1 John  3:3  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Sometimes I find myself looking at the lives of Christians, especially young Christians, wondering what I could say when I see the things they do and allow in their lives. Now it is very difficult sometimes to know whether things being done are simply cultural expressions of life today with no great significance to them, or if they are sin. Theologians often struggle when it comes to exactly defining what things constitute sin; they can define it as lawlessness and so on, but when it comes down to particular actions at specific times, it is not always so easy to say “That is wrong.” I know there are parts of the church that are negative about virtually any sort of pleasure and so in some quarters going to the cinema or watching DVDs is even prohibited, but that sort of isolation simply cuts off from the rest of society and means it is especially difficult to communicate with the world and impact it for good, and has very little to do with God’s definitions of righteousness or unrighteousness.

Perhaps this verse, although not specific about specific things, is helpful. But let’s not rush it; let’s deal with it in an orderly way. John speaks here of “Everyone who has this hope.” What hope is he referring to? The hope spoken of in the previous verse: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In other words, the hope we have is that one day we will be like Jesus. Now I’m not sure, if I’m being honest, if lots of Christians in their present state relish that thought.

Consider: Jesus is completely given over to his Father’s will, at whatever cost – including that of giving up his life for humanity.  Consider: Jesus put himself out to reach the poor, the sick, the destitute, the unbeliever, and even the blatant sinner. Consider: Jesus never got drunk, never over-ate, never had casual sex and never demeaned or spoke badly of anyone, except those in high places who were being hypocritical – and these he spoke fearlessly against. Jesus never lied, not even white lies, never sought favour, never pushed himself forward, was never violent, never competed with others and never sought to get to the top of the pile. Submit that ‘x-ray machine’ to many modern Christian lives and how will they show up?

Perhaps we don’t respond well to this sort of speaking because we don’t actually think much about Jesus coming back and us becoming like him.  John implies that if we did think about this then we would purify ourselves. Perhaps part of our thinking might be, well he’s not likely to be coming back for a long time and I’ve got to live in this world while I wait, so what does it matter. I can always be cleaned up at the last minute. I would suggest that such thinking is second class thinking. What if Jesus wants to “turn up” not in the skies tomorrow, but simply in revival power by his Spirit? I am told that often in such times of revival, the first part of it is the Saints on their knees in floods of tears, as the things they tolerated are exposed by the purity of the light of the Holy Spirit shining with a power that is only seen from time to time in what we call ‘revivial’.

When John says this person “purifies himself” there is an echo there of the Old Testament, carried on into the New: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.” (Jn 11:55)  There was an outer washing and also, as much as they could, a heart cleansing.  Peter spoke of being cleansed when we came to Christ: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22) Coming to the truth and now obeying it meant that their lives were being cleansed from the contamination of sin that we suffered previously, before we knew Christ. John has already touched on this in what may be considered takes place when we come to Christ in repentance and when we confess individual later failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

This cleansing or purifying makes us pure like Christ, part of the general process of making us like him: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28)  So part of the thing of being remade in Jesus’ likeness means that the Holy Spirit is seeking to work the same purity that is in Christ, in us. When something is ‘pure’ it is being free of impurities. When we came to Christ, he declared us free in this way, but in terms of practical, daily sanctification it is an ongoing process.  Part of that process is becoming aware of things in our lives that are not Christ-like, and then part of that process is making an act of will that we will change and no longer tolerate the things that come to light, and the final part of the process is with the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit, replacing those things with Christ-like things.

On the negative side, the apostle Paul said, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) Those are un-Christ-like things. On the positive side he then went on to say, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Col 3:12,13)  That is the purifying process. Let it work!

32. Ongoing Evil

Meditations in Malachi : 32.  Ongoing Evil

Mal 3:15   But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ “

There is an inherent problem living as a righteous and godly person in an unrighteous and ungodly society or nation. In challenging the people of God with the word of God, the prophet acknowledges this difficulty. It is just a variation of what we have already considered earlier, but it does highlight certain specifics that the wise Christian should be aware of.

Fact one: we live in a fallen world and large numbers of people (in the USA and UK this is now the clear majority) do not acknowledge God and live out their lives as they see fit, not as God sees is right. That is the unpleasant truth of living in the twenty first century. But having said that, it has always been that way! That is why Jesus told the parable of the weeds (Mt13:24-30, 36-43) and the parable of the fish (Mt13:47-50). Both parables remind us that good and evil live alongside each other and that a final judgement will only come at the end.

Fact two: God rarely seems to tell us when He is going to turn up. This means uncertainty. Will it just get worse and worse or will He come and change it?  That depends on exactly where we are in God’s economy. According to the book of Revelation the last day appears to be preceded by unparalleled godlessness and unrighteousness, but are we actually in those days? Only the Lord knows. If we are not then, considering Church history as a whole, we may expect the Lord to turn up with revival and turn many people to Himself. There have been many prophecies and much praying over the last half century that suggests that that will be, but the truth is we don’t know when. Lots of people have tried to put a positive spin on the state of the church and the state of the nation, but the truth is that God has NOT come in sovereign power in revival in this century at least. Yes, there were various ‘renewals’ in both the USA and the UK in the 1970’s to 1990’s but we have not seen that sovereign move that has been seen in earlier parts of Church history – and we still don’t know when it will come.

Fact 3: Jesus anticipated these feelings of frustration because, when teaching on prayer, using the parable of the widow and the judge, he concluded, And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8) Note the final words. What is he saying? Pray your heart out and keep on praying, but at the end of the day, regardless of whether you think you get answers or not – remain faithful!

So let’s remind ourselves by looking at the verse above, what it is that we have to contend with and stand against. First, says the prophet, “we call the arrogant blessed.”  In an ungodly society values get distorted and we esteem those who are proud and arrogant. I’m sure you can think of public figures (often politicians) who are loud, brash and self-esteeming – and who, as a society, we applaud. Second, he says,the evildoers prosper.” Those who are living unrighteously and are making big money seem to not only be getting away with their unrighteous and ungodly outlook on life, but they seem to be doing well out of it! Third, he says, even those who challenge God escape.” Are the names of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens familiar to you? They should be for they are two of the leading crusading atheists who have been pumping their anti-God propaganda into the world for the last few years – and apparently getting away with it.

So, go back to the first ‘fact’ and remind yourself that so often God allows the ungodly to persist for two reasons. First because there WILL come a final reckoning either at the end of a person’s life or at the Last Day and, second, because the Lord wants to give each person every opportunity to repent and turn to Him before their times runs out: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9) So, don’t get frustrated with the unrighteousness and ungodliness you see around you. Pray your heart out and “overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) Regardless of what others are doing, YOU “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5;16)

 

Church History

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.10 of 10

1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

As we are still very much aware today, the ongoing history of the Church is an ongoing battle. Those who do not want to submit to a sovereign God speak out and do all in their power to destroy Christianity. In the early centuries of the life of the Church there was tremendous persecution that went on against the Church, which went on for the first three hundred years of its life. In some measure or other that persecution has carried on throughout the whole period of Church History and in some parts of the world is just as terrible as ever. The skeptic would do well to consider why such a pointless religion (as they see it) should evoke such terrible violence and horror against it.

There was also a battle against heresies throughout those early centuries, those teachings that sought to distort the historical truths of Christianity. In the beginning of the 21st century we see a resurgence of many of those heresies. What those who refuse to study these things fail to see, is that the traditional Christian beliefs are clear cut and free from the ‘weird and wonderful’. The New Testament accounts and teaching is free from mystical or weird teaching. It is very simple and straight forward and can be understood by anyone coming to God through Jesus Christ. There is no ‘special’ or ‘mystical’ knowledge required as the variety of heresies have demanded. The testimony of John in his letter that we have above, is that this was all about the eternal Son of God who had come, and who they had seen, heard and touched. This was as down to earth as is possible to get!

Possibly the biggest struggle that the church has had is within itself, with what the Bible calls ‘sin’, that tendency to self-centredness and godlessness. Thus the further history moved on from the life of Jesus and the early apostles, the greater the distortions and variations and mishandling by men involved in leadership in the Church. Thus we had one part of the Church growing up with a central focus at Rome while the eastern part grew under the focus at Constantinople. Eventually came what was referred to as the Great Schism where the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church split apart to go their separate ways.

Through the Dark Ages, abuses eventually so upset Martin Luther that we had the Protestant Reformation, the start of a return, away from tradition and abuses, back to Biblical Christianity. At various times in Church History in various places around the world, different areas experienced ‘revival’ where the sovereign working of God brought many people to know Him, often accompanied by signs and wonders.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, while much of the Church was suffering the ravages of liberal theologians, God came by His Spirit in California with the start of the Pentecostal wing of the church, emphasising the use of the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12), now a strong worldwide movement. In the latter part of the twentieth century came a fresh emphasis on the teaching that the Church is the body of Christ. With this came charismatic renewal and the so-called restoration movement. In each of these movements can be seen, by those with eyes to see, the ongoing revelation of God to and through His church, confirming and affirming all that is found in the New Testament. 

The history of the Church has included:

a) a struggle to arrive at the truth of what happened two thousand years ago

  • in and through the life of Jesus Christ,
  • and its effects for us as human beings,
    by the early Church,

b) a diluting of that truth by the formation of human institutions and ideas of men, over the centuries,
c) a recovering of the biblical truths through the protestant reformation,

d) a recovering of the biblical life of the Spirit, by a variety of moves of God over the past hundred years.

In these notes we observed the gradual revelation of God through the first two books of the Bible which is echoed throughout the Old Testament. We briefly considered the greater revelation of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the effects of that on mankind. The ongoing battle is to hold onto the truth of the revelation of God through the Bible, and to counter the many distortions that we, the sinful human race, seem to manage to come up with about God, that are contrary to the Biblical revelation.