High Places

Mention the name “High Place” and God reaches into His vocabulary and uses a word that expresses His most severe moral disgust – “abomination.” Mentioned over a 100 times in the Bible, the high places were originally centers for Canaanite idol worship. Located on mountain tops or elevated pieces of ground (hence the name high place), some of the most detestable things imaginable took place in the worship of false gods. Even before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan, Moses commanded them to demolish all the Canaanite high places … “or they shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell” (Numbers 33:52, 55). Yet despite Joshua’s passionate destruction of such places, these pagan worship centers continued to plague the nation of Israel (Judges 2:12-13, 17; 1 Kings 14:22-24).
Tragically, it was Israel’s leaders who allowed worship on the high places to continue. King Solomon actually built high places for gods such as Ashtoreth, Milcom, and Chemosh (1 Kings 11:6-7). King Jeroboam established high places in Bethel and Dan so the northern tribes would not travel to Jerusalem to worship the true God (1 Kings 12:25-33). In their time each leader in Israel and Judah had to decide what he would do with the high places. When a good King would come to power, he would rid the land of idols and demolish the high places (II Kings 18:4; 23:4-20). Evil Kings, like Ahaz and Manasseh, would give full support to the high places and even offer sacrifices on them (II Kings 16:4; 21:1-3).
Over time the scriptural record notes that even among the good Kings “the high places were not taken away” (I Kings 15:14; 22:43; II Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4; 35). The surrounding cultural pressure to be like the other nations was so strong that most of Israel just “winked” at the remaining high places. Eventually, these high places became so entrenched in Israel’s culture that they seemed normal. They were so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things were, that even the best of Kings did not think to remove them. So the old high places that were an abomination to God became the “new norm” for the nation Israel.
Is there a lesson here for today’s Church? Have we accepted things into our lives (the way we behave and think) and into our culture (the values that we embrace) that at one time were considered an abomination to God? Are there issues we have grown so weary of opposing that we have simply yielded to the surrounding culture and subtly accepted them as the “new norm”? I believe the answer is yes and I believe these things are our “high places”.

“Sensuality” is one of our High Places
If we could transport Christians from the past into our present day, I think the thing that would surprise them most is how much at home we are and how tolerant we have become with the pervasive sensuality of our culture. Sexual perversion is not new to the Church. To be certain the church has always had to fight against sexual sin. It is on every list of vices in the Bible. It heads the list of things the Apostle Paul says are not fitting for a Christian. Yet today, mainline denominations are on the fast-track of accepting, even celebrating, homosexuality, same sex marriage and all other manner of sexual perversion. Even though most evangelical Christians still oppose these more blatant sins, they are far too accepting and tolerant of the sexual crudeness, vulgarity and carelessness of today’s world. Even worse, many entertain themselves with movies, television programing and novels that celebrate homosexuality, marital infidelity, fornication and nudity while often mocking purity and abstinence. This has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to cry against it. This has become the new norm!
One of the most visible indicators of the churches acceptance of this “new norm” is the immodest dress of America’s Christians. Actually the two are tied closely together. Whenever a sense of modesty is lacking, human sexually becomes fatally trivialized. And when human sexuality is reduced to consumer merchandise, the display of the body becomes the main billboard to advertise its sexual value. Even though the problem of immodest attire is widely acknowledged, few church leaders (men or women) offer guidance and biblical instruction. Their fear of becoming legalistic or offensive keeps them silent while the voice of a fallen world has no such inhibitions. This is one of our high places.

“Spiritual Mediocrity” is another High Place
With the proliferation of electronic media the average Christian has available to him more preaching and teaching – more information about the Bible and Christian living than ever before in the history of the world. We are clearly the most informed Christians that have ever lived! Yet one leading American pastor was forced to ask himself, “Why is today’s church so weak? Why can we claim more people with more conversions but have less and less impact on the surrounding culture? Why are our Christians indistinguishable from the world?” Dallas Willard’s response to this dilemma is interesting. He claims that it is not in spite of what the church is teaching but precisely because of it! He goes on to say that the church has pitched its message too low! It has offered a form of “miserable sinner” Christianity that tells believers we are but miserable sinners and that moral failure is expected. Hence we offer a gospel of “sin management” where the essence of the gospel is simply the forgiveness of sins – a message that neither offers nor expects any real transformation of life and character. As a management expert would say, “This system is designed to yield the results it is getting.”
This low level of spiritual living has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to expect anything else. This has become the new norm! But you can be assured of one thing; this is not the true gospel! The gospel not only offers the forgiveness of my sin but the real transformation of the heart! It clearly teaches that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the abundances of God’s grace we can live in full obedience to the commands of Jesus – “not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10).

“Worldliness” is a High Place
I am using the term “worldliness” in the Biblical sense as to how people “think” and subsequently “behave” (Rom. 8:5-7; 12:2) The word for world (kosmos) means an order or an arrangement of things. Hence we can define the world as “Human ability organized historically and socially into a system where humans use natural ability (their own resources) to achieve what they want and to promote what they value, a great deal of which is in active hostility to God.” The Bible defines “living in the flesh” in much the same way. When the New Testament speaks of those who live in the flesh it speaks of those whose lives are oriented around themselves and who know only their own resources. A “man of the world” or someone who “lives in the flesh” is someone who thinks and acts from a point of view that leaves God out of the equation. To them the only reality is the temporal – what they see, touch and know.
True Christian living is the antithesis of this. Christians place the eternal over the temporal. They live from an alternate reality. Their life is drawn from divine resources. This way of living is in significant contrast to the world and has two major implications for the Christian. First, he thinks differently than the world thinks! His thinking is not limited to the confines of mere human understanding. He doesn’t determine his course of action by what Godless men say, no matter how brilliant it sounds (Psa.1:1). Second, he behaves differently than those who are of this world. He doesn’t seek after the “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes” nor is he controlled by the “pride of life.” To him the world is “passing away” and lacks permanence. Hence he “sets his affection on things above” and “stores up treasure in heaven.” This makes his life recognizably different; distinctly unique from everybody who is not a Christian (Matt. 5:47). He is in the world but not of the world.
The only problem here is that the description I just wrote of the Biblical Christian is not recognizable, much less acceptable, to the average Christian today! Our obsession with the material, our addiction to more, our love of the good life and our captivation with this modern day Sodom hardly receives a slap on the hand by even the most radical of prophets. Worldliness has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to it see as a problem. This has become the new norm!
The high places of our lives may be varied and unique but they are all equally despised by God. We may have changed the words we use for them but God still uses that same old word from long ago – abomination!

Echoes of Eden ~ Reflections on walking with God

If there is one person mentioned in the Bible who has always intrigued Christians, it is Enoch. His biblical importance is such that he is mentioned by four of the inspired writers, yet the personal information given about him is scant. What is given can be summed up in just four simple words – “Enoch walked with God”. One might be tempted to overlook such a brief simple biography but, in the estimation of heaven, these four words speak more completely of a greater life and character than could ever be ascribed to the most renowned warrior or statesman by the whole voice of history.

Enoch’s story is remarkable for not only what is said about him but also for what is not said about him! This bit of silent but important information is tucked away in a genealogical list found in Genesis 5. This list is composed of the descendants of Adam through his son Seth. The scantest of information is provided on each firstborn male and then each descendant’s life is concluded with the same three words, “and he died.” The writer uses the technique of repetition to remind the reader that the dire judgment pronounced in Eden “you will surely die” did indeed come to pass with unfailing certainty on every son of Adam. Every one, that is, but one – Enoch! The sobering phrase “and he died” is never used of Enoch. The writer says it like this, “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him”.

His story is even more remarkable when one remembers that he lived his life and raised his family in the antediluvian world. Genesis 6:5 tells us that during this time the wickedness of the human race had become so great on the earth that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time”. Yet it was in this setting that Enoch walked in such harmonious fellowship with God that he was graciously exempted from diluvian judgement as well as the universal end of all men – death. Enoch’s life proves to us that a man can live pleasing to God in whatever circumstance he may find himself. This has been true of all the saints. They have shown us that the Christian life can be lived!

Echoes of Eden

Enoch’s wonderful account of walking with God tells us as much about God as it does about Enoch. Enoch’s story repeats for us what we learned in Eden that God desires man’s fellowship. He desires a “walking relationship” with man that involves companionship, dialogue, intimacy, joint decision-making, mutual delight, and shared dominion. This is clearly stated in the creation mandate (Gen. 1:28) and beautifully illustrated by the walks God took with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. Further on in Genesis we learn that God walked with Noah and Abraham. It is in these two accounts that we learn something else about God. We learn that God needs to walk with us before he can work through us. Or to say it another way, God works with his friends. When God can establish a friendship with us, then His divine activity can and will accelerate in our lives.

Reflections on Walking

Enoch’s life models for us the three simple components that are crucial to walking with God.

Faith
This is, in fact, the basic requirement for walking with God. The Hebrew writer informs us that Enoch had this level of friendship with God by faith and faith alone. “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:5-6). Now the writer of Hebrews simply asserts that faith embraces two basic convictions: First, that faith holds the firm belief that God is and that He is who He says He is. Second, that faith is confident that God will reward those who seek Him. (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)

Fellowship
Enoch’s walk of faith was one of fellowship God. When two friends walk together, they do so to enjoy each other’s company. But they are only able to enjoy the fellowship because they are in agreement one with another. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). The word used for “together” gives the idea of two people moving in rhythm together, as in riding a tandem bicycle. Enoch was in perfect harmony with God’s will and way.

Obedience
The apostle John tells us “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:6). One cannot walk with God and live in rebellion against Him. The overall pattern of Enoch’s life was one of obedience toward God while staying away from sin. Such obedience left Enoch with the commendation that “he pleased God.”

Enoch a Model for Today

Someone has said that if there is a crooked stick, and you want to show how crooked it is, you need not waste words in describing it, just place a straight one by the side of it. This is what Enoch did. His simple daily walk with God spoke powerfully to the world around him (Jude 14-15). We also know that such a walk has generational implications. It was his great-grandson Noah that also walked with God. Oh, let it be said of you and I that we “walked with God!”

A Tribute to Wingrove Taylor

This past May, the Board of Trustees of God’s Bible School and College gave a sad farewell to its longest serving member Dr. A. Wingrove Taylor. At age 92, Dr. Taylor felt that he did not have the physical strength necessary to continue his role as a Trustee – a role that he filled with distinction for 44 years.   His interaction with the board was always professional, his contributions profound and his influence powerful. No man alive, who has not actually been an employee of the school, has had more impact on the life of this institution than Wingrove Taylor.

The Taylor connection to GBS began in 1905 with the arrival to campus of Irene Blyden (Dr. Taylor’s mother).   She was from the Caribbean Island of Sabba. It was at GBS that she met another student from the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts, Richard Taylor, who came to GBS to prepare for the ministry. Some years later they married and gave a lifetime of service to the development and expansion of the Pilgrim Holiness Church on the Caribbean Island of Nevis.

Wingrove came to GBS in 1948. He enrolled in the Christian Workers Course but eventually moved to the college where he completed two diplomas in music, a ThB degree and a BA degree. He graduated with honors in 1953. He returned to the Caribbean where he gave 41 years of service as a pastor, District Superintendent, College President, Field Superintendent and finally as the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Holiness Church of the Caribbean. Dr. Taylor served as an annual camp evangelist for the GBS Camp meeting for almost 40 years.

Dr. Taylor had a remarkable influence on thousands of GBS Alumni and friends through his pulpit ministry and personal counsel. His influence on me personally was profound. Immediately after I became President Elect in December of 1994, he asked me to accompany him to the “old” men’s prayer room. We sat down in a couple of chairs and he talked to me about the value of prayer in the life of a leader and then prayed for me. In the following 20 years, I have turned to him again and again for wisdom and advice.

Dr. Taylor was gifted in so many ways. He was a musician, singer, scholar, author, preacher and administrator. He was peerless; he was fearless; he was orderly (he once told me that next to his Bible Roberts Rules or Order was his most treasured book); he was saintly; he was professional; he was careful; he was logical; he was Biblical; he was sensitive; he was sensible; he was authentic. However, the greatest gift he has given to me and to all who know him, is not what he has done in ministry, but what he has become while doing ministry.

The people I have put on a pedestal and felt they were worthy of emulation have been very few indeed, but Wingrove Taylor is one of them!

Ain’t Anybody Gonna Cry?

Healthy Christians have an appropriate balance of up-reach (worship), in-reach (spiritual formation) and outreach (evangelism). If we lack any one of the three we lack the kind of spiritual health taught in scripture. If we fail to give proper attention to any one of them, it will create a deficit or imbalance in the other two. We need the vigorous engagement of all three to be all that God wants us to be. With that in mind, I want to focus on the one that troubles my spirit and prompts this article – outreach.

God wants to work through you and me to reach a lost world. It is one of the primary roles we fill as Christians. It is true that we were made to enjoy an intimate relationship with the triune God but it is a working relationship! Just as Jesus was sent by His Father into the world on redemptive business, so we are being sent by Jesus to work in the family business – the business of saving lost men. This is our job! It is the primary reason given and illustrated in the book of Acts for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). He was given to fortify us with the kind of power necessary to testify of Jesus even in the face of death. Yet, while 80 percent of Christians believe they have a duty to share Christ with others; and 75 percent believe they can effectively carry out that duty; over 60 percent make no endeavor to witness to or win the lost. This is appalling! James S. Stewart put it this way, “The threat to Christianity is not atheism, materialism or communism. The greatest threat to Christianity is Christians who are trying to sneak into heaven incognito without ever having shared their faith.”

The obvious question is, “Why do so many Christians make no attempt to be a

channel that the Holy Spirit can use to bring someone to Christ?”

Frankly, there are barriers on both sides of the outreach door. Lost people erect emotional, intellectual and volitional barriers that make it very difficult, and at times impossible, for anyone to penetrate. These can be overcome with relationship building, patience and a willingness to answer objections graciously. Barriers for believers can be numerous but the list I have developed in short and to the point.

Intercession

Dennis Kinlaw notes, “Nothing saving ever originates with us. God takes the initiative in everything that is saving”. Yet this God, who alone can save, has chosen not to work alone. He has called us to work with Him in the saving of souls. One of the jobs He asks us to do is to be intercessors (one who causes to meet). Remarkably, God wants someone who will stand between the lost soul and Himself and be a channel of His grace to that lost person. When is the last time you paid the price of soul travail that allowed you to lift the reluctant hand of a lost friend toward the outstretched hand of a merciful God?

Religious Isolation

In a recent interview, Francis Chan said that as a young Christian in high school he used to cry over his friends when he thought about them spending eternity in hell. The same was true when he worked in a restaurant, he used to cry over the waiters and waitresses and pray, “God you’ve got to save these people”. However, after he began working in the church, he didn’t weep very much over the lost. Chan is being very transparent about what can easily happen to any Christian when they isolate themselves within the community of believers. Unless we interact with lost people there can be no outreach through us. There is no impact without contact. You need to ask yourself the question, “How many sinners do I have a close enough relationship to that the Holy Spirit could effectively use me to reach them for Christ?”  If your answer is none, then you clearly aren’t even trying to reach the lost.

It’s not my job!

Pastors regularly tell their congregations that it is his job to equip the church to do the work of the ministry. Congregations often respond (under their breath) that the pastor and his staff are being “paid” to reach people! The end result is that no one feels like it’s their job! Scripturally, the “going” shoes of the Great Commission fit the feet of all believers – clergy and laity alike!

Indifference

My gut feeling is that most Christians just don’t care. Indifference has robbed us of a broken heart for lost people. It has stolen the passion and commitment to do whatever it takes to be an instrument or the means of someone’s conversion. A well-known pastor shared the story of shaking hands with a group of Sunday school kids when one little boy informed him that he was moving and would never be able to come back to his church. The pastor simply patted the boy on the head and continued shaking hands with the other children. Suddenly, the pastor felt someone tugging on the back of his suit jacket. He turned around and there was the same little boy who had announced he was moving. The boy looked longingly into the eyes of his Pastor and said, “ain’t you even gonna cry?”

Does any lost soul know that you care enough to cry? More importantly, does God know that He can reach a broken world through your broken heart?

Celebrating 125 Years of the God’s Revivalist

No history of the Holiness Movement is complete without mention of Martin Wells Knapp and his “pulpit” the God’s Revivalist and Bible Advocate. With a circulation of 20,000 at the turn of the last century, it has played a significant role in the promotion and spread of scriptural holiness. When Knapp launched the paper (then named The Revivalist) in 1888 his purpose was “to proclaim the good news of salvation, to stir up a revival spirit among Christians, [and] to stimulate Christian growth and responsible Christian living.” For 125 years the editors and staff of God’s Revivalist have sought to carry out his initial vision of a paper in which the good done would not be through “human might, nor power” but only through “the Holy Spirit.” Knapp realized, and we affirm, that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

Knapp boldly proclaimed that he and the writers of this paper were only agents of God, committed to carrying out His work of promoting full salvation. He insisted that, should the paper die because of loyalty to these convictions it would be a “willing martyr.” Knapp’s belief in the power and providence of God’s provision for the Revivalist was sound. Only 12 years after Knapp launched God’s Revivalist, more than 50 holiness periodicals were in circulation across the United States. Today only one of those original publications remains in print. You are reading it.

As grateful as we are for 125 years of unbroken publication, we know that Knapp would have resisted the urge to engage in self-congratulation. All praise and honor belongs to the God who rules over all! Knapp frequently referred to the readers of his paper as “family” and this is a view we still share. So it is only right that we share with you, our family, some of what you can expect to see from the Revivalist in the coming years:

  1. A digital version of the magazine.
  2. Supplemental audio and video content.
  3. More special issues devoted to contemporary Christian living.
  4. An increased web and social media presence.

The Revivalist will, for years to come, be available in print. In the near future, however, we intend to offer the magazine in a format suitable to tablets, e-readers and smart phones. Already, the Revivalist Press has begun to issue, and re-issue, e-book versions of our most popular publications. We are firmly committed to upholding scriptural holiness to the coming generation of digital natives. We also intend to provide supplemental audio and video content via the web. In the immediate future you will begin to see a number of special issues devoted to single topics. These will, we pray, as Knapp promised “stimulate Christian growth and responsible Christian living.” All of these changes will mean an enlarged web and social media presence; changes we hope will increase the global impact and reach of this publication and its founding message, “Holiness Unto The Lord.”