Longing for Revival

I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship.

As a matter of regular meditation, I consider the list of things I believe:

  • The eternal God of the Bible created, sustains, and has a purpose for the universe and my life within it
  • Jesus gave His life to atone for the sins of the world (Mark 10:45) and by vesting belief in Him, people are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21)
  • The Holy Spirit of Christ miraculously indwells redeemed people (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • The Colorado Rockies will win the World Series (someday, no scripture reference)
  • Many churches need and can have revival

I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship. A renewed sense of the mission of disciple-making results from the first sparks of spiritual life that ignite, giving evidence to my belief. I believe these things are Scripture honoring and God glorifying.

There are doubtless many reasons that churches fall into decline, some beyond their control. As we talk about revival, it’s important to distinguish between spiritual and material poverty as a contributing factor. Geographic factors and demographic shifts can be the reasons that churches find themselves in material decline, making closure a choice that has to be made. We can identify numerous other external factors as reasons for the death of a church, and we need to be clear-eyed in assessing these realities. Conversely, spiritual decline has but a single source, the dimming of the passion of the members of a body for the gospel mission. Jesus spoke of this as forsaking “your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

While external factors may be beyond the control of a local church, the spiritual fire they exhibit is not. I believe that the Lord’s promise to be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20) assures us that any spiritual spark can be fanned into a roaring flame through His power. What does it require? I believe this inferno lies at the juncture of a return to heartfelt worship and the restoration of the Church as a house of prayer. Does this guarantee revival? Perhaps not, but it ensures that any ministry that emanates from a church is glorifying to God.

Sparking a Movement

A summary of Spent Matches by Roy Moran

The Christian church has used a range of participatory metrics to evaluate her success in the modern era. Conversions, baptisms, the number of people present in worship: we fastidiously record these numbers throughout the year and then pore over them at year-end leadership summits. We define success as an increase in these totals; failure, plateau or decline. The analysis of these numbers governs the design and direction of the programmatic functions of the church. Leaders will tweak the edification programs to push for a more active evangelism, believing that transferring more information will make more effective evangelists. But how often are these same leaders referring to the commission given to the Church by her Lord to check the validity of their choices?

As Roy Moran states in his invaluable book Spent Matches, not often enough. The flaw in these metrics of success is that we no longer live in an era where information transfer to our neighbors and friends is effective in igniting their interest in God and His grace. To state this is a more colloquial fashion: the lives that surround the typical evangelical church are not the least bit interested in knowing what goes on inside. What people respond to is running into a radical life, one that is radically committed to Jesus and His teaching. Telling people what we believe puts their hypocrisy radar on full alert (as they have become conditioned to do in all areas of life). Living what we say we believe makes us stand out from the rest of the world clamoring for attention in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors.

It can be tempting to read the book as the outline for implementing a program, particularly because it includes ‘suggested’ outlines for meetings in the closing chapters. Mortify this temptation by slowly considering the imagery of the dire condition of the Church Moran paints at the beginning of the book. He suggests that our metrics should show the declining influence of modern Christian practice, likening the condition to a burning oil drilling platform surrounded by miles of churning sea. In the modern day we have two choices, jump or fry. To stay on our current platform is to die slowly on a long slope of decline. To jump is the join a movement back to the first principles of the Lord’s commission for His community of followers: make disciples who make disciples.

Moran is not the only author to put this idea into print. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne leads to a similar conclusion, and has been influential in many churches by offering a ladder down from the burning platform. Moran is more forceful. We must jump and return with fresh eyes to the text of Matthew 28:18-20 and stop the bifurcation of the Gospel movement. Following a declaration of the expansive authority given to Him as the basis for the commission, Jesus commands His Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (ESV). The command to baptize these new disciples into the family and to teach “them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” The Church has been obedient to this commission, but the methods have resulted in a bifurcated gospel practice where we separate life from faith. We have defined discipleship as an education process (information transfer) and then convinced ourselves that discipleship precedes evangelism (“sharing our faith”). The outcome of this process? Disciples never feel ready to evangelize others, so we double down on teaching them, hoping that someday their ship will launch. All the while, the platform burns.

The myth of preparation-perfection that plagues the information-transfer Church is refuted by reading the verses in the passage that are not a part of the memorized commission. The audience for the Lord’s command is His remaining eleven disciples, some of whom worshipped, but some of whom doubted! Perfection was not to be the enemy of progress, as Jesus commanded them to jump from the platform into the unknown. As Moran says,

“Jesus didn’t exhibit any sense of alarm indicating this was out of the ordinary or unusual. He was quite comfortable with a team that didn’t have it all together. In fact, He was comfortable commissioning people who not only lacked complete faith but were confirmed doubters.”

This is a catalyzing moment in the book, setting in relief the encouragement to jump and ignite a new movement within the Church, disciples who make disciples as they go along, each edifying and encouraging the other rather than relying on subject-matter experts that students feel they have to imitate before moving on the Mission. The Lord does not expect to create a class of mission-minded within the Church, specialists who carry on the Commission while others sit and watch. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, one involved in daily learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus and then putting that into practice. Moran’s take on John 15:8 (“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”) is accurate and puts our current process is stark relief:

“Jesus’ hope was that it would be normal for His followers to make disciples as they lived out a dangerous message that would divide families ad heal the brokenhearted, challenge the well-off and encourage the impoverished, transform the oppressors and bring freedom to the oppressed. To fail to make disciples would indicate followers weren’t connected to Jesus and the heart of His mission.”

Owning this concept is the spark of a movement that puts away information transfer and replaces it with community life. Jesus did not commission us to be taught principles about Himself, he said we were to be taught and then apply what he commanded. This obedience is the missing part in most programs in the modern Church; we are never challenged to show what we’ve done with what we’ve learned and so we never do. This is the source of the apathy we see in the pews. We have more information than we can possibly process at our fingertips, but scarce few opportunities to put it into practice and fewer still partners in the discipleship life holding us accountable. The discipleship patterns that Moran suggests through the book aim to fill this vacuum.

A fair number of churches today claim Acts chapter 2 as their model, seeing a return to the ancient church as a solution to moribund Christianity. The component missing in many is the discipleship pattern given by the Lord’s example and command: disciples, however imperfect, who make other disciples (who repeat the process) in community. This is what will capture the imagination of a world that has long ago become inured to the invitations of the Church. I invite you to read the book a few times and see if you are tempted to jump from the platform into the raging sea of the culture, trusting the Lord’s promise for our weakness, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Good News | Hopelessness Defeated

29863962483_562ceffb39_zVarying degrees of hopelessness are an accepted part of life in our world. Better stated, hopelessness has marked life since the moment that rebellion against God entered the mortal plane. Hope requires a foundation, and when it is vested in the ever shifting, rapidly changing, only marginally trustworthy structures of the human world, that foundation can crumble in an instant. Claiming hope while secretly wondering when the ground beneath our feet will give way is no hope at all.

True hope is found in the one thing that never changes; true hope is found in the promises and assurances of God. Through the prophet Malachi, God gives hope to the descendants of Jacob saying I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Mal 3:6)  God gave similar assurance in the midst of the words of doom that the prophet Isaiah was charged with proclaiming, God gives this hopeful reminder about the proper placement of hope, The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isa 40:8)

The Savior Jesus Christ, Son of Man and second member of the Trinity, never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb 13:8) Faith in Christ results in an unchanging hope. This is a hope that may be buffeted by the challenges and trials of life but whose roots driven deep in the rock allow it to bend like a reed and not be broken. This is a hope that may be challenged by the many worldviews that swirl about but are ultimately found wanting. Hope rooted in Jesus is hope that will carry you through the worst storm, shine light in your darkest hour and can be counted on when all else inevitably fails.

The gospel of the life, sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ fuels the hope of all those who put their faith in this good news of God’s love through His Son. God’s eternal promises from the seconds after the hope-stealing rebellion in the garden come to fruition in the Savior and remain, unchanging, into eternity. The deeper the good news settles in our soul, the greater our hope. The more the good news defines our lives, the greater our hope.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. An I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)

Be hopeful.

Psalm 118 ~ Rejected Stone

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24

These stanzas carry a familiarity for the Christian as they are heard in both the New Testament and modern worship. Christ uses the words of himself in all three of the Synoptic accounts, not only making it memorable but also, markedly important across the three diverse audiences for each book. In its NIV84 form, not a week goes by that the day the Lord has made doesn’t ring out in music from the stages of His church. We hear these words and envision the imagery through Christ’s voice, but what does He intend to convey?

Psalm 118 is a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance. In the case of the Psalmist, deliverance from military enemies who threatened to encroach upon the sovereignty of God’s people. The author leaves no historical context from which to apply the celebration to a particular victory, leaving it open to wide range of interpretations. Regardless, the hymn begins and ends with a vibrant call to praise that cements the goodness of God in the minds of the celebrants:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;

His love endures forever. (v1)

Is your maturity such that you can say the same thing? Can you look over the record of your life, its struggles, troughs and troubles and say with confidence that God is good every minute of every day and this His love is on full display in your life? Should He elect not to deliver you from trouble, will you sing the same words?

When Jesus speaks these words of the monumental change in the kingdom, He has just told the parable of the Tenants to a dumbstruck audience, most of whom would fail to see themselves as actors in the story. If the parable applied to them, their thoughts would run to a world turned upside-down, something they were wholly unprepared to face.

Salvation for followers of Christ is inextricably bound up in this monumentally changed kingdom. While travail may still be a part of our lives, we can take a celebratory attitude in the hope and promise that this change engenders. For a short time we may suffer, but at an appointed time the Lord’s goodness will be more than a promise. It will be the reality of His enduring love.

Grace and peace to you…

Hope–Second Sunday of Advent 2010

imageMay the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

One of the great reminders that our observance of Advent brings, is that we have not been left alone to patiently endure until the Lord returns for us. As Paul wrote in the verse that precedes the passage above, every word of the Scriptures was written that we may be encouraged and have hope. Perusing those scriptures we find that we not only have hope from these words, we are surrounded with like hope in our family, community and church. We are both recipients and providers of this hope, from and to other Christians. Together, we look to the flame that edges closer to His coming with each week and together, we await his second arrival.

Paul uses the scriptures to remind the reader of a promise from years past that applied to them in that day, and which remains applicable to us in our hour:

“The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him.” (15:12).

Jesus, the ‘Son of David’ is that root. He is the source and center of our hope. His life provides the model for our endurance and servanthood to others. Others within the church know the source of our hope. Our calling is to take that hope outside of the church and into the world, living lives that exude such joy and assurance that it sparks the spirit in others to seek out the fount of promise.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (v13)

Grace, peace and hope to you.

image Per Ola Wilberg

Lent Spent with the Psalms Day Fourteen

imageA horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all of its great strength it cannot save. (Psalm 33:17)

We move closer to the Cross every day and yet it is still easy to lose sight of its reason for being. The horror of Calvary is the only hope we have but our wandering hearts tell us otherwise. Our souls are easily distracted when something of worldly power promises to deliver us. We are enticed by strength, by piety, by words.

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,

to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. (vv 18-19)

Look up, look toward the Cross. That is our only hope. We cannot save ourselves and no one else on this planet can either. Our Father knows our ways and He knows that are prone to wander off, to be enticed by the strong things of this world. Satan promised the Lord power over the whole world ( Luke 4 … was the Wicked One just misinformed about Jesus? ) but Jesus knew better than to invest His trust in this false authority. He knew who to serve.

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (vv 20-22)

Grace and peace to you.

image eir@si

Psalm 43 – Send Forth Your Light and Truth

image Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. (vv 3-4)

The Psalmist groans in the face of continued persecution, much as he did in psalm 42. [N.B. Psalm 42 and 43 form a single prayer unit and should be read together.] He begs to be restored into an audience with Yahweh who he will praise. The hope that colors this brief prayer applies now as it did then; praise does not require peace. Praising God requires the long view. We must look beyond our immediate circumstances, whether morass or exultation, and know that in the eternal blueprint that God has for the world he works all things for good.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?

Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (v 5)

 

Image Walt Jabsco

Psalm 25 ~ To You O Lord, I Life Up My Soul

Must God be reminded of his character and the covenant mercies that derive from it? In the prayer framework of psalm 25, David approaches the throne in prayer by voicing the grace that is God’s alone to give.

To you O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.

Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. (vv 1-3)

It’s not so much that God needs to be reminded of who He is or what He is like. Rather, the penitent prayer is suffusing himself with the confidence that comes from rehearsing the promises of God’s goodness in times of trouble.  Here, David puts his trust in God to deal with an enemy that he did nothing to provoke. He trusts that the goodness inherent in God and the promise to shepherd His people will be the hedge of protection that surrounds David and his people.

His approach changes in the verses that follow. Continuing to recite the goodness of Yahweh, David also recognizes and seeks grace for the flaws within himself. The deep contrast is a valuable reminder to us as we enter our prayer closets.

Remember, O Lord, you great mercy and love, for they are from old.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs siners in his ways.

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (vv 6-9)

Covenant promises are a two-way bond and they require that we not only recognize the goodness and grace that God will exhibit but also, that we recognize and catalog the flaws and corruption within ourselves. We must be penitent before the King.

Digg This

Fourth Sunday in Advent – Micah and Mary

image In logical ordering of the world God created, the darkness must precede the light. We must endure the night to know the sunrise and warmth of a new day. This ordering extends to the extension of God’s mercy; our repentance leads to the light of the Lord’s mercy. Reading the words of the prophet Micah paints a vivid picture of this contrast. The Lord rebukes his children and follows it with the promises of mercy to be received by those who turn away from their sin. The greatest promise is a featured part of the Advent tradition,

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (v 5:2)

Mary too knew the sweet longing of anticipation. Carrying the precious gift she bore closer and closer to His birth, Mary was overwhelmed at the change that was about to take place in the world. She was perhaps at a point similar to those moments just before the crown of the sun breaks the horizon, when the purples mix with the deep blue and black of the night sky and the sliver of light pushes the sphere of darkness to the west; though many weeks would still pass the day of the birth of the Lord was nearer than farther! Her heart sang,

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name. (Lk vv 1:46b-49)

The day is near for us as well, rejoice for Immanuel!