Closing the Gap Between Knowing and Being

I have always been fascinated by what people say when they pray. The prayers of a great saint are not only edifying but revealing. They tell you something about the one praying as well as offer insight into the needs of those he prays for. Reading the prayers of the apostle Paul explains what I mean (read Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-11). The Apostle’s prayers consistently reflect two great requests: enlightenment and enablement. Paul’s earnest desire for his spiritual children is that they might have a growing knowledge of God’s will and power to live out that will.

Paul understood the importance of knowledge. He often began his prayer by asking that believers might be filled with spiritual wisdom, understanding, and an ever-growing knowledge of God. This knowledge would come from scripture, the teachings of the apostles and prophets, experientially through a daily walk with Jesus, and through the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s concern that his children grow in knowledge was not simply concern for intellectual attainment but for moral and behavioral transformation. Paul wants us to know so that we can be.

Paul’s companion request was for power, not power to work signs and wonders but the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to live beautiful, holy lives that manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Knowledge alone can’t take the wobble out of our walk. For knowledge to effect change it must be activated. One may be a Greek scholar and a master theologian and at the same time be a failure at living out a holy life. One needs power to translate what one knows into what one is and does.

The natural question that should follow is, “How is this power activated in one’s life?” Understanding the source of this power is an important first step. It is not self-generated. It does not have its source in human invention or determination. Paul tells the Ephesians that it is “His power”; that we are “strengthened with might through His Spirit”; and “according to the power that works in us” (meaning the power of the Holy Spirit). To the Philippians he says that we have these fruits of righteousness “by Jesus Christ.” To the Colossians it is “according to His glorious power” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” To the Galatians he says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh…but the fruit of the Spirit is….” Paul makes it clear that the power to live godly lives comes only through divine enablement.

The question still remains, “How is the Holy Spirit’s power unleashed in my life?” Again, there is something we must understand. The power of the Holy Spirit is not a thing that we possess. It is not like a high-octane fuel additive that supercharges our spiritual engine. The Holy Spirit is a person who lives within us in intimate relationship. He is there because we have willingly surrendered our lives to His control. And whatever He controls He empowers. And when He empowers, we are able to manifest the character of the God we serve. The key to this inner strength is total surrender. As we walk in the light and mature in Christ, we will be enlightened to new areas that need His enablement.   These new areas must be surrendered too, so that the Holy Spirit can give us victory and power in them. If we aren’t careful we will be tempted to handle these in our strength, and the end result will be failure.

Oswald Chambers said it succinctly when he declared that “to be our utmost for His Highest is not a matter of willing, wrestling, debating or reasoning, but of surrender.” If you want to close the gap between what you know you should be and what you are — you must close the gap between what is under your control and what is under His.

 

God Goes Where He’s Wanted

In his most recent book, What Good is God, Phillip Yancey makes a remarkable observation about God’s work in the world. He says, “I am struck by the phenomenon of God ‘moving’– not in some mystical sense but geographically moving from one part of the world to another.” He goes on to note that the Apostle Paul addressed his epistles to churches that were in the Middle East; yet today, to find them one would need an archaeologist as a guide. The Christian faith spread westward across Europe into Britain and Ireland, reigning there for over 1000 years. But today, though much of the architecture still stands, less than 3 percent of the population goes to church. In time, the Christian faith spread to the Americas where a lively, yet dimming, presence remains. In recent years the greatest advance has been in Africa and parts of Asia. So much so that now less than a third of Christians come from Europe and North America. However, today the explosive growth of Christianity is in China! There are some 20,000 conversions a day happening behind the bamboo curtain.

Yancey asks the rhetorical questions, “Why are there so many formerly Christian countries? Why does it appear that Christianity has hop scotched around the globe”? His answer is amazing. He says, “I’ve concluded that God goes where he’s wanted. And when a society feels less need for faith, God quietly moves on, to a place that senses more need.”

Not only do I believe that Yancey is right, I believe the Biblical record supports that assertion. The Bible repeatedly reveals a God that always makes Himself available without ever pushing His way into our lives. He patiently waits to be invited. Why? He wants to be wanted! Mark 6 tells the story of the disciples at sea in the midst of a storm, “and Jesus saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by” but they cried out to Him in their distress and He came to their rescue. Luke 24 recounts the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and says that when “they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: he made as though he would have gone further, but they constrained him, saying, Abide with us . . . and he went in to tarry with them.”   One of the final pictures we see of Jesus is Him standing at a door knocking, saying, “if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Conversely it is true that when God is no longer needed or wanted He moves on. The Old Testament narratives of the nation of Israel make this very clear. Israel had suffered in Egypt under the yoke of slavery for almost 400 years. Their life was so bitter that they, “sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage”. God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh’s hand and started them on an amazing journey through the desert to a land of “milk and honey.” During the years of wilderness wandering they were forced to depend on God. He fed them, clothed them and planned their daily itinerary. He hovered over them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They went on to conquer the land and build lasting cities. They grew strong, prosperous and plump—and promptly forgot all about God! And the short step from not needing Him to not wanting Him was finally taken. So an unwanted God withdraws. In His absence Israel is overrun by her enemies, disgraced by foreign gods, taken into captivity and finally scattered to the ends of the earth. This is the story of individuals and nations that no longer want God.

The good news is that God is willing to come back! I Samuel chapter 7 tells the story of a defeated Israel languishing under the heavy hand of the Philistines and suffering the indignities of their heathen worship. Verse two describes the mood of the nation, “. . . the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” During these bitter years there began to develop a better mind in the children of Israel. Their conscience began to stir; their soul began to be weary; and there arose a long and sorrowful cry after the Lord. They wanted God once again! And the God who wants to be wanted responded to their cry with revival and renewal!

If we are enjoying His presence in our lives it’s because we want Him in our lives. If He seems far away then remember the words of Jeremiah, “. . . You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD”. God goes where He is wanted!

 

 

The Book That Stands Alone

I am a lover of good books and highly value many that are on my shelves! But the Bible stands alone from all other books in my life! I believe it to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible and authoritative Word of God. It is the single most important source of my understanding of God and all of His creation. It shapes my faith, guides my life and gives me a lens in which to view and understand the world around me. It is the book that God has chosen to reveal the way to Heaven. I agree with the venerable John Wesley when he said, “O give me that book!   At any price, give me that book of God”.

The Bible stands alone in its origin. It was written over a span of 1500 years by 40 different authors from all walks of life (kings, philosophers, fisherman, poets, statesmen, farmers, physicians and scholars). It was written on three different continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) from palaces, dungeons and wilderness haunts, during times of war, peace, prosperity and famine. Composed on stone, clay, papyrus, and parchment, those original manuscripts were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit without contradiction or error – thus providing for us God’s holy Word.

It stands alone as the mind of God. Scripture is indeed the revelation of God’s mind. It is certainly not His entire mind but it is all that He has chosen to share. If we are to think as God thinks; if we are to see life as He sees life; then we must saturate our minds with scripture. The Apostle Paul admonished the Roman Christians to readjust their thinking by the “renewing of your mind” using the Bible as the means to do so.

Scripture stands alone as the source for absolute truth. The Bible is the only reliable moral compass that we have. We are moral and spiritual creatures living in a world that is controlled by moral and spiritual values. The concepts of good and evil are innate in our human psyche; yet sin has distorted our understanding of truth as well as disabled our ability to live it. We cannot, either individually or collectively, decide what truth is or what is to be accepted as a true standard for moral behavior without the transcendent absolute truths that are given to us in Scripture. To deny Scripture as the standard for absolute truth is to remove any absolute standard for moral behavior and reasoning.

The Bible stands alone in its ability to change the course of history as well as the lives of those who live that history out. A simple verse of scripture, quickened to the heart by the Holy Spirit, can radically alter the course of a life and a nation – writing a new future for both! No other spoken word has such impact. No other book has such power. “Oh, give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God”.

We Are Becoming What We Love

We are all in a constant state of movement. Ask any parent and they will tell you their tumbling little toddler is running rapidly toward becoming a towering adult. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that the first grader struggling to read small words and add simple figures will someday be reading the classics and doing calculus. On the other hand, ask the doctor about aging, and he will tell you that we are moving away from strength to weakness, and from life to death. For the Christian, Paul says we are, “being changed from glory to glory.” (II Cor. 3:18)

We are all in the process of becoming. We have moved from what we were and are now moving toward what we shall be. The troubling thought about this is not that we are moving, but what we are moving toward. Life refuses to let us be still. We are ascending or descending – mounting up or sinking down.

An important question in this process is, “What determines our direction?” According to A.W. Tozer, “we are becoming what we love. We are to a large degree the sum of our loves and we will of moral necessity grow into the image of what we love most.”

No wonder the greatest Biblical commandment admonishes us to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37) Jesus infers this in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

You and I are being molded by our affinities and shaped by the things we love. This is the reason behind much of the drift, compromise and worldliness that we see happening all around us. Much of what people call a new found freedom in Christ is nothing more than an unrestrained display of a deep love for this present world.

The law of moral affinity will either cause us to reflect Biblical values in our activities, attitudes and adornment or else will mold us into something that reflects the values of this fallen world. Both Jezebel and Judas were at one time pink-cheeked innocent children, but they set their affections on the wrong things and were carried downstream by a moral undertow. There is no middle ground. It’s not where you are at this moment; it is where you’re moving. You are becoming what you love!

 

A Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement

by the President and Faculty of the Division of Ministerial Education,

God’s Bible School and College, Cincinnati, Ohio

INTRODUCTION. Deeply concerned for the future of the Holiness Movement, and especially of the Conservative Holiness Movement of which we are a part, we issue this call for the full and vigorous recovery of our heritage as Christians of Wesleyan conviction. We share the distress of those who warn of “historical drift,” spiritual apathy, and surrender to the depraved secular culture that surrounds us. We submit that a renewed commitment to the essential principles of scriptural Christianity which we have received in classical Methodist belief, piety, and mission will prepare and strengthen us for the challenges that confront us. We appeal, therefore, to our entire movement to unite with us joyfully in this commitment, pledging uncompromising faithfulness to God’s Word and to creative relevance in our ministry. Upon the original foundations of our movement, therefore, we must build determined, effective, and contemporary witness to God’s unchanging summons to holy hearts and holy lives.

Implicit in this recovery are the following specific themes:

A CALL TO BIBLICAL FIDELITY

As Wesleyans we affirm that the Holy Scriptures, as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, are the basis of authority in the Church, normative for all our faith and practice. We declare with the English Reformers, “Holy Scripture contains everything that is necessary for salvation, so that whatever is not stated in it, or cannot be proved by it, must not be required of any man as an article of belief or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

Yet we have often focused on issues and made demands which we cannot legitimately establish from the Scriptures. As a result, trivial notions and speculations at times have marred our witness. We call, therefore, for renewed submission to the absolute authority of the Bible, not as a revered icon, but as the touchstone for both our personal lives and our public proclamation. For in every age, the Church must submit itself unconditionally to the Word of God, interpreting it in harmony with itself, in keeping with the best insights of historical and literary study, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with respect for the historic understanding of devout Christian scholarship.

A CALL TO HISTORIC ROOTS AND CONTINUITY

 We gladly affirm our allegiance to the classical Christianity of the centuries, confessing its faith, sharing its historic witness, living out its godly discipline, and claiming all of its treasures as our own. We give God praise for our legacy of evangelical Christianity magnificently set forth in the heroic lives of ancient Christians, the faithful witnesses of the Middle Ages, the stalwart testimony of the Reformers, the biblical proclamation of the Wesleys, and the earnest piety of the early Holiness Movement. We rejoice in the lives and ministry of earnest followers of Our Lord from every branch of orthodox Christianity.

But too often we have smugly disconnected ourselves from our Christian past; and in so doing we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, and blind to the work of God in the lives of others. We have withdrawn ourselves into protected enclaves, congratulating ourselves on our superiority over other Christians, sometimes refusing fellowship with them because of our disagreement in doctrine or in practice, and ignoring the continuing work of the Holy Spirit throughout all the universal Church. At best, this is lamentable ignorance, and at worst, sectarian bigotry. We call therefore, with John Wesley, for a “league offensive and defensive with every soldier of Christ,” reclaiming the richness of our Christian heritage and our essential unity with all who truly confess Him as Lord.

III. A CALL TO CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

Union with Christ establishes membership in His Church, the community of the faithful, in all times and places. It is founded by Our Lord and established upon Himself, and we claim His infallible promise that the gates of hell shall never withstand it. As we live out our faithfulness to Him, we must also live in faithfulness to the Church, which is His body and bride, living and dying in its communion. We affirm the traditional Protestant insistence that the visible Church is the congregation of the faithful in which the “pure Word of God is preached and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance.”

Too often, however, we have adopted a narrow and individualistic approach to our Christian Faith. Sometimes we have so emphasized personal spiritual relationship that we have forgotten that relationship must be realized, strengthened, and advanced within the company of God’s people. At other times, we have imagined that we were the Church, or at least that the Holiness Movement was its most significant component rather than only a tiny segment of its fellowship. We call, therefore, for renewed understanding of the biblical doctrine of the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” reverence for its orthodox confessions, submission to its holy discipline, and faithfulness to its common life. As a coalition of holiness believers within its communion, we gladly but humbly offer our gifts to the universal Church—gifts which center in our historic focus on holiness of heart and life.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN HOLINESS

Holiness of heart and life flowing out of love for God, as we believe, is the “central idea of Christianity,” for this is God’s redemptive purpose for our fallen humanity. Holiness is both His gift and our pursuit, and as the writer to Hebrews reminds us, without it none of us shall ever see the Lord. Negatively, holiness is separation from all that is sinful and unlike Chris; and positively, separation unto godliness, righteousness, and full Christlikeness. It begins in regeneration by the Spirit, flourishes in the work of entire sanctification, and advances throughout our lives. As Wesleyans, we reassert the biblical passion of our forebears “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands.”

We confess, however, that our passion for holiness of heart and life has sometimes been reduced merely to external codes and prohibitions, and “holier-than-thou” attitudes toward those who differ from us. As such we have become shell without substance, and betrayed the Scriptural mandate to be holy, because the Lord our God is holy. We therefore call our movement to a renewed love for God from which will blossom consistent and winsome lives of holiness, first in motivating purpose, and second, in outward conduct. This means that we must continue to accentuate both of the definitive moments we identify as works of divine grace, conversion and entire sanctification, all the while giving proper attention to the progressive growth in grace by the Spirit and the increasing separation from the world which our Methodist forebears so firmly stressed.

A CALL TO METHODIST PIETY

Our Methodist heritage has underscored the necessity of devout personal piety grounded in sincere love and profound reverence for God. This implies binding and lifelong covenant with Him, living faith in Christ our great sin-bearer, allegiance to the inner principle of “jealous godly fear,” commitment to disciplined discipleship, faithful obedience to His holy Law, dynamic growth in grace, and faithful use of the means of grace. All holiness of heart and life must be grounded in sober and steadfast love for God.

Sometimes, however, our emphasis on external regulation and dutiful performance has ignored the principles of authentic piety. Our appeals to holy conduct, which are both legitimate and necessary, have often been based more in the impulse to preserve the taboos of our religious subculture than in allegiance to the Word of God and its demands. The heart of all Christian obligation is loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then “to fear Him and keep His commandments.” Not only are we called to do what is right but also to love what is right, for this reason abstaining from all that He condemns and embracing all that He enjoins. We will never stop the “historical drift” among us merely by enforcing traditional legislation but by vigorous and renewed insistence upon authentic relationship with God and passionate pursuit of Him. Gladly we reaffirm our traditional emphasis upon simplicity, modesty, stewardship, separation from the world, and conscientious lifestyle, but all this must be within this warm and gracious context of loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

As Methodists, therefore, we call our movement to return to our originating commitment to principled covenant with God, which, according to the General Rules of 1743, demanded these commitments: (1) the renunciation of all known sin; (2) the embracing of all positive virtue, and (3) the faithful practice of the means of grace, especially “the instituted means of grace,” defined as the Word, prayer, fasting, Christian fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper. This demands disciplined life within the community of the Church, a renewing of our historic pattern of spiritual formation through small accountability groups, such as the class meeting, and faithful submission to healthy and holy discipline, while at the same time we are altogether dependent upon the gracious work of the Spirit who changes us “from glory to glory” into the likeness of Our Lord.

A CALL TO AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH

Christ Our Lord has delegated the powers of government to duly-appointed officers in the Church, and we are mandated to obey them faithfully. All Christians are to be in practical submission to one another and to these designated officials in the Church. The edifying and equipping of God’s people and the administration of church discipline are committed especially to faithful pastors who are called not as “lords over God’s heritage,” but as examples and as shepherds of His flock.

We therefore deplore the spirit of autonomy and even anarchy which so often has marked our movement. Too often in our congregations and denominational life we have exhibited rebellion against the authority structures which God Himself has established, boasting our independence of them, and refusing to submit to their godly discipline. This has been evidenced by continuing divisions among us, often over matters unconnected with allegiance to Scriptural truth. As the heirs of classical Christianity, we have not so learned Christ. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable to you” (Heb. 13:17).

We call therefore for renewed exposition of the Scriptural qualifications for leadership within the Church, corporate exhortation to beware the deceitfulness of sin, and biblical obedience and submission to those whom God has made under-shepherds over us. God grants no Christian autonomy from mutual submission and accountability within the Body of Christ. We must therefore repent of our oft refusals to exercise the Scriptural means of restorative discipline within the Church and commit ourselves to loving one another even as our Father loves us in chastening and scourging every son whom He receives.

VII. A CALL TO CORPORATE WORSHIP

Corporate worship is the exalted glory and central pulse of every Christian congregation. At its core, worship is the adoration of God, Holy, Blessed, and Undivided Trinity, and by apostolic mandate, it is to be conducted with decency and order. In the public worship of the Church, as the old Methodist communion service reminds us, we join “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven [to] laud and magnify” the Lord of hosts, joining in their eternal hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”

As Wesleyans we have a two-fold heritage in Christian worship. On the one hand is the warmth and earnestness of fervent and joyful devotion. On the other is the sober restraint of form, dignity, and tradition. Both are essential. Too often, however, we have emphasized the first and neglected the second. We need not neglect the subjective emphasis so characteristic of our services, but we must ground our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving in the great objective acts and truths of God Himself.

We call therefore for the renewal of our corporate worship, based in the mandates of Scripture and in the tradition of evangelical orthodoxy, centered in the faithful ministry of Word and Sacrament. Our preaching must be based in conscientious interpretation and earnest proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, and our administration of the sacred ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be meaningful and faithful. We lament our neglect of baptism and the Lord’s Table, for this is to slight the Saviour who so kindly has established them to fortify our faith, calm our fears, and nourish us with grace.

VIII. A CALL TO CONSISTENT DISCIPLESHIP

Christ commissioned His followers to make disciples through Trinitarian baptism and instruction in all His commands. The early church responded to Our Lord’s call to aggressive evangelism by taking the gospel to every corner of their world. Yet they realized that the central thrust of the Great Commission was discipleship accomplished through baptism and teaching, so they largely invested their time and energy in systematically teaching new converts the whole counsel of God and equipping them for ministry. This same emphasis elevated Wesleyan Methodism to towering stature in the kingdom of God, while without it Whitefieldian Methodism proved “a rope of sand.” We confess that, despite our heritage, evangelism has languished among us. We have largely abandoned our Methodist system of spiritual formation and forgotten how to fulfill our Lord’s command to make disciples. We have sought revival without preparing to preserve its fruits. We have emphasized spectacular conversions and neglected the biblical necessity of disciplined growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. We further acknowledge that where evangelism is taking place among us, a systematic plan for incorporating new converts into the visible Body of Christ through baptism and instruction is largely non-existent.

We call, therefore, not merely for a reaffirmation of the importance of evangelism and discipleship, but for a commitment to equip our laity for the work of the ministry, for the establishment of solidly Wesleyan curricula for systematic discipleship, and for the implementation of these training methods in all our churches. This will necessitate a concerted effort on the part of our leaders to reclaim the skills of discipleship, reinstitute regular systems of accountability and affirmation, and to resume obedience to Scripture’s mandate to teach faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. We shall begin again to bear much fruit when our disciples themselves become disciple-makers.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN SOCIAL WITNESS

Our Lord’s call to take up the cross and follow Him is a call to Christian social witness, for everywhere the Master went He ministered to both the spiritual and physical needs of people. We have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10), indeed, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6), first in meeting the needs of fellow believers, and second in doing good to all men. Love for Our Lord and passion for holiness should impel us to minister compassionately to the sick, the suffering, and the forsaken, and to resist courageously societal structures that oppose divine purpose and degrade human dignity. “Whenever the Christian lives an authentic life, the world around is permeated with God’s presence…,” as Dr. Leon Hynson has written. “[He] raises the quality of life, makes social justice, equity, and integrity work. The pure in heart not only ‘see’ God, but become the letters through which society sees Him.”

Unfortunately, we have sometimes withdrawn from that society into the cloistered walls of a narrow and narcissistic piety. But this was not the pattern of our spiritual forebears who raised Christian consciousness in all the forums of public life and who filled their land with works of grace and mercy. Their stated mission, “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands,” asserted God’s sanctifying purpose to transform lives and in consequence to transform culture.

We call therefore for renewed commitment to Christian social witness. This means that we will lovingly and forcefully proclaim Christ’s power to liberate from sin, both public and private, asserting the claims of His Kingdom against all that militates against it. This commitment will also lead us to minister compassionately in His name to the imprisoned, the needy, and the oppressed.

A CALL TO RESURGENT HOPE

All Christian life is centered in the resplendent hope that we have through Christ’s victory accomplished in His incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection. The sure and certain anchor of the soul, this hope has given gladness and assurance to faithful believers all throughout the centuries of the Church’s struggle with the forces of entrenched evil. It assures us of present victory in our personal lives and corporate ministry, but it also points to the final triumph when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Never have we so needed a renewed sense of the hope that we have in Him. We know the power and devastation of sin, and we acknowledge the increasing degradation of our culture. We are Wesleyans, however; and as our theologians have said, the keynote of our theology is not the “pessimism of [fallen] nature” but the “optimism of grace.” We therefore call our movement to the joyous expectation of victory which so motivated our spiritual forebears to claim the American frontier for Jesus Christ. We cannot cower before the darkness, paralyzed by “the encircling gloom” which continually we must confront. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The same power which brought the Roman Empire to bow before the cross, renewed the Church in the days of the Protestant Reformation, and reshaped the culture in the Wesleyan Revival is also ours as we encounter the moral depravity and sneering secularism of our times. Let us be joyfully faithful, then, creatively relevant, and utterly confident that Jesus’ victory is our own. With gladness we do the work which He has given us, even as we await the consummation when all the earth shall echo with the song of conquest, “Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns!”

 

The Light of the World

Light is one of the great Johannine words that occurs no fewer that twenty-one times in the fourth gospel. It is one of the two key words upon which John builds his testimony of Jesus. John describes Jesus as a light that has come into the world to light the life of every man (John1:9). Another one of John’s key words is darkness. John saw a darkness in the world that was very real and very hostile to the light. This darkness represents evil. Sinning man loves the darkness and hates the light, because the light exposes their wickedness. John takes these two themes and shows their natural opposition. He portrays a universal battleground where the forces of dark and light are arrayed in an eternal conflict. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it (John1:5). The darkness seeks to eliminate the light of Christ—to banish it from life, but the light will not go out!

This conflict is played out in the pages of sacred history. The Old Testament lets us witness everything from individual struggles with evil for the soul of a man to heavenly warfare for the soul of a Nation. In the New Testament this conflict emerges with intensity around the cradle of the incarnate Christ as the forces of darkness unleash Herod’s sword in a futile attempt to eliminate the light. The ultimate battle, however, would unfold at Calvary. The rulers of this age and the powers of darkness thought if they could only nail Christ to the cross that darkness would win once and for all. They thought the crucifixion of Christ would be the ultimate defeat and their final triumph. In fact, it proved to be just the reverse. Out of the darkness of his death came the blinding light of His resurrection victory. The light of this good news exploded out of the confines of Palestine and across the known world like a quickly spreading flame until, in a few decades, the gospel had impacted every major population center of the Roman world.

The powers of darkness responded with persecution and torture. But wild beasts and boiling oil couldn’t put out the light and the blood of the martyrs only fueled the flame. When persecution from without did not succeed, the forces of darkness turned inward and awful darkness settled down over the church. But out of the heart of that darkness, reformation fires began to burn and the light prevailed. Every counter move by the forces of darkness to extinguish the light only brought revival fires that would break out and save lives, transform nations, and change the course of history.

The darkness has used all sorts of political ideologies, human philosophies, and false religions to advance its cause. But the light always breaks through to enlighten the mind and liberate the hearts of men. As you gather with friends this Christmas season, light a candle and lift your voice in praise for light has come into the world and the darkness has not and will not overcome it!

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!