Tag Archives: revival

I’m a worm and no man

To be broken is the beginning of revival.

“Brokenness” is the opening chapter of Roy Hession’s challenging, inspired book, The Calvary Road.   He begins with brokenness because without a broken spirit (blessed are those who are poor in spirit, Jesus said) we will not know the life of Jesus.

What is brokenness?  You know it when you see it.  Or experience it yourself.  It’s that moment when you realize that you are undone, that everything you have tried to offer God is a sham, that you no longer have any excuses.   

It’s a painful death of Self.  

An unbroken person will still try to justify themselves.  They will offer what seems to them a good reason for being who they are and for doing what they do.  They will blame their history, their culture, their parents, their church, their spouse, their kids, their job, and on and on.  They will continue to insist that they have some rights.   They will name certain conditions before they will act.  

While doing all of this they may very well say they are sorry.  But being sorry is not the same as being broken.  And being sorry makes you just, well, sorry.  

God can’t and won’t do anything with a sorry person.  But He will do miracles with a broken one.

There is a prophetic word in Psalm 22.   You know this Psalm in part because the words Jesus quotes from the cross comes from it: 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

Jesus was not trying to draw our attention to only one verse, but to the entire Psalm, as any good Rabbi would do.   Further down, in verse 6, is this pathetic cry, 

But I am a worm and no man

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Jesus, the son of God, who had every right to boast, every right to call a legion of angels to his rescue, who had every right to justify himself as sinless before God, did none of that.   Instead, he became a worm on a cross, and bowed his head to the will of His Father.   

Matthew, in his gospel, does not want us to miss this connection.  He tells us that while Jesus hung on that cross people passed by, deriding him, “wagging their heads,” at him.   It’s the same thing the Psalmist says the people do to him after calling himself a worm (Psalm 22:7).

Hession says this about worms,

There is a big difference between a snake and a worm, when you attempt to strike at them.  The snake rears itself up and hisses and tries to strike back – a true picture of self.  But a worm offers no resistance, it allows you to do what you like with it, kick it or squash it under your heel – a picture of true brokenness.  And Jesus was willing to become just that for us – a worm and no man.  

Are you coming to God as a snake or as a worm?

To be broken is the beginning of revival.   Jesus became nothing on the cross for our sake and God raised him from the dead three days later.  It is promised to those who are broken, not sorry, but who bow their necks and say to God, “I am a worm and no man,” that God will not despise you (Psalm 51:17), but heal you.   He will become your God, and you will become His child.     

I know this to be true in my life and in the lives of many others:  The degree to which we are still in bondage to our sin is the degree to which we still act like a snake rather than a worm.   

To be broken is the beginning of revival.   

The Heart of the Matter

An article I wrote about revival in the Methodist church was published on a website called Seedbed.    Readers of this blog will, I trust, benefit from some of Rev. Sangster’s advice which I share in that post.   Any real move of God in our lives will only begin when we stop pointing fingers at others, or at our past, or at our present and look within our own hearts.

You can read it here:  The Heart of the Matter

The Two (Different) Types of God’s Love (and why it matters)

I am reading the great revivalist, Charles Finney’s, lectures about revival.   Finney lived and preached and prayed until his death in 1875, before which he led the Second Great Awakening, a revival that swept through America and saw hundreds of thousands come to know Christ.   It has been said of Finney that just the sight of him would cause people to fall to their knees and repent to God for having been in the presence of such a holy man.    His work continues to point people to Jesus today, including myself, as evidenced by the page dedicated on this blog to showcasing the pre-revival work he would require to be done, which changed my life when I did it myself.

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In my reading last night I came upon a couple phrases I was unfamiliar with in large part because Finney is writing in the 19th century and the meanings of words often change.    He was talking about the “love of complacency” and “disinterested benevolence” and in the context they both sounded like good things, though different.    After Googling it I found a great article that explains all of it in great detail (and it’s worth reading!).    At the risk of messing it up, Finney distinguishes between 2  types of love God has for us.  One is a selfless love of “benevolence” which seeks to see the whole world saved.   It’s the sort of love which compelled God to send His Son into the world.   The other, however is a love God has reserved for those who walk in righteousness, who strive to walk holy, as He is holy.    This is the love of “complacency” or, in 21st century language, “approval” and “friendship.”    Jesus said, “You are my friends if you obey my commands” (John 15:14).

This distinction – between the general benevolence of God to all and the particular love of God towards some – rocked my world a few years ago and was the thing I fought against most in my transformation.    My sin blinded me to God’s holiness for so many years that it became necessary, and easy, to believe the love of God was uniform and universal, in spite of my sin.   I remember saying in an interview once, “If God has loved and saved me, and knowing the mess I am, then surely everyone must be loved and saved!”   How I presumed upon God’s love!  I was guilty of the charge Paul lays out in Romans 2:4ff…

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

I was silenced, shut-up, by God’s word.   The only way out was for me to confess that I did not truly love God with the love of “complacency” but merely one of “benevolence.”  I was not truly known by God as a friend, but only in a general sense, in the same way God loves all the world.    When I confessed this  – when the truth became clear to me – my heart’s cry then and still today is that I would be known and loved by God as a friend!   And what a joy it is to know God as friend!

When you come to know this particular love of God reserved for His friends you know what it means to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh.   You begin to see the difference between a walk that was enabled by God’s kindness, which was for the purpose of leading you to true repentance, and a walk that is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, which is reserved for the “children of God.”   And this is not a spirit of fear, but one of adoption, by whom we are able to cry out “Daddy!  Father!” (see Rom. 8:9, 13-17), and through Whom we are able to crucify the flesh, live free from the sin that has enslaved us, and be used by God as instruments of righteousness (see Rom. 6:5-14).

Below are the concluding remarks from the article I referenced above about Finney.    I recommend reading it in it’s entirety, but here is a snippet:

It is the grand truth in the study of God, that “God is love”(1John 4:8). And, anyone who professes to know God, while walking disobediently, exhibits neither disinterested benevolence nor the love of complacency toward God or man. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His Commandments: and His Commandments are not grievous” (5:3). The essential or fundamental difference between disinterested benevolence and the love of complacency, is that disinterested benevolence is owed to all without regard to character, i.e., “For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life”(John 3:16), while the love of complacency is due only those who are holy or lovingly obedient, i.e., “He that hath My Commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him”(14:21).

The danger of confusing these terms that Charles G. Finney labored his life to teach the Philadelphian Church of the 1800’s, is that:

(1) The Ungodly will claim that, if the God who is love died for the world, then all men will be universally saved, e.g., Universalism. But, that would be to neglect the paramount truth that only those who “believe on the LORD Jesus Christ” shall “be saved”(Acts 16:31), because that only is the “faith which worketh by love”(Galatians 5:6).

(2) The Backslidden will maintain that obedience to the Moral Law is not only unnecessary for salvation, and that, outright disobedience to the same Moral Law does not separate us from the love of God. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear”(Isaiah 59:2). It would be the same as if they advocated that it is unnecessary to love God with all your heart– as demanded by the Moral Law (Matthew 22:36-40)– in order to be saved, i.e., “But if any man love God, the same is known of Him”(1Corinthians 8:3). Further, they would be purposely obscuring the fact that “whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not”(1John 3:6), and that “if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the Truth”(1:6). And,

(3) The Honest But Ignorant Saints will become so confused by an improper understanding of the love of God, that they will often find themselves falling back into sin, making little headway in their Christian walk, while finding their pace to be much like the Laodicean Church around them. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the Oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat”(Hebrews 5:12).

My House Shall Be a House of Prayer

With everyone else I am still trying to get my head and heart around the recent tragedy in Newtown.    As a father of 5, I can’t imagine the grief and sorrow of the many families affected forever by a few seconds of chaos.    May they find comfort and peace in the heart of God in the upcoming days, weeks and months.

When Newtown happened I was still in the midst of grieving another tragedy that occurred 2 days prior in a mall in Oregon, where a lone gunman took the lives of 2 innocent shoppers before ending his own.

Yesterday’s tragedies get eclipsed by today’s, and because human nature is what it is,  tomorrow’s seem all but guaranteed.

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Tragedies like these evoke in us a desire to see something change.    They upset our equilibrium.   They judge harshly our complacency.

Some of these hoped-for changes are laudable and necessary.   Some lament the ever-increasing secularization of our culture and believe these horrors could be averted if we re-instituted public prayer  in our schools.    Some believe better gun control laws are the answer along with repenting of our obsession with guns and the right to own one.

I would gladly welcome both proposals and and would be happy to see them incorporated.

Others will miss this opportunity for change altogether and divert our attention to heroic moments of brothers saving a wet cat or a millionaire athlete giving out an annual shopping spree to some lucky kid.  We will surround ourselves with appeasements of our innate goodness to prevent having to look very deep at the evil that lurks within.   We preach, “peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

But none of this – neither legislating public prayer or gun control, or focusing on the outward goodness of humanity – will resolve our crisis.

Our problem is not a political or legislative one, it is a heart one.

While prayer in schools is a good which I applaud, a friend reminded me this weekend that prayer in schools did not prevent the Amish school shooting of 2006.    And tighter gun laws, while no doubt necessary, will not protect the innocent.     In Beijing, China, the same day as the tragedy in Newtown, a man attacked 22 children and one adult in a primary school with a knife.   This, the latest of a barrage of knife attacks inside Chinese schools.

And as for appeals to remember our goodness, both our Scriptures (Rom. 3:10-12; Ecc. 7:20) and our experience say otherwise.    Fact is, there is an Adam Lanza in every one of us.  But for the grace of God, go I.

Jesus said that it is out of the abundance of our hearts that evil such as sexual immorality and murder comes (Mark 7:21).   He told us that we must first make the inside of the cup clean (our hearts), and then all else will be clean (Matt. 23:26).

Jesus did not allow his audience to take the easy way out by rallying to change the external forces around them (eg. lobby for prayer in schools or gun control) nor did he comfort their crisis by telling them they are basically good people who are just unfortunate products of their evil society.

No.  He told them, as he tells us today, to repent.  He calls each of us to the long, hard, dying-to-self life of obedience.    He brings judgment upon our prayers which say,

Thank God I’m not Adam Lanza

while justifying the contrite in heart who cries,

Have mercy on me, God, a sinner.

We long to see something change, but want to see it happen without changing us.

I believe there is an opportunity here for us to make some radical changes but it will begin where Jesus began:  By becoming more faithful disciples ourselves and making disciples of the nations.

And this, I think, is where those calling for prayer in schools have it at least partially right.    But it has nothing to do with schools.    It has to do with churches.

St. Peter said, “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17).     What is this judgment?    In large part I believe it is summed up in Jesus’ words:

My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13).

How little our churches, let alone schools, are houses of prayer!    How little time we actually spend in pouring our hearts out to God, seeking His wisdom and direction and protection over our lives and our land.    There is something wrong in our churches when we can hold a pot-luck and raffle that draws hundreds but call a mid-week prayer meeting and you get crickets.

We as a “Christian nation” will rise up as one at 4Am for Black Friday but few of us will “rise before dawn and cry for help”  (Psalm 119:147).

While we ask in the wake of tragedy, “Where was God in this?” God may very well be asking of us, “Where are my prayer-warriors in my House?”

Jesus said my house shall be a house of prayer.  Perhaps before we make schools havens of prayer we should first make ourselves, and our churches, battle-grounds of the same.

Yes, something must change.  But the change begins in me.  And in you.   As for me, I resolve to continue in my morning prayer walks before the sun rises, beseeching God to become more in me that I would become less.    I resolve to pray with my wife and children at home, to model what it means to be desperate and thirsty for the voice of God in my own life.    I resolve to cry out to God for our nation, our schools, and our churches, that we would know the power of God to transform our hearts and minds and see revival in our day and age.    I resolve, by the grace of God, to stand in the gap for a growing majority in our country and churches who no longer fear God or believe He is really paying attention.     I resolve to make God’s house a house of prayer, and to cling to his promise which states,

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).

What will you do?

Can Methodism Be Reborn?

Below is an edited version of an email I sent out to some pastor friends of mine a few months ago.   In my devotion time this morning I was in Psalm 85, which echoed a prayer I have been praying for the Church for many months.   It reads,

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?  Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to their folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.   (Psalm 85:6, 8-9)

What is true for my church, the Methodist Church, is true for many others, I believe.   I hope the following is of some benefit to you, and the churches we love and serve.

I’m reading a wonderful little book I picked up at the library today entitled, Methodism Can Be Born Again, by W.E. Sangster, whom I had never heard of until today (an extraordinary Methodist preacher in Britain, as it turns out).

I wanted to share some insights I have gleaned from this book with you as a way to perhaps encourage some dialog with people more learned than myself and experienced in parish life.   Or, perhaps this will serve you in some other way on a personal level or be something you feel will serve someone else.   Either way, I pray you are blessed.
What I find so wonderful about this book is that it is written in 1938, and as such, prophetic in its diagnosis and treatment of Methodism’s decline.   After examining some of the reasons commonly given for decline in both attendance and ardor by those within and without the church (i.e. the War, loss of biblical authority, competing attractions on a Sunday morning, radio (ha!), a transient society, and a spirit of secularism), he goes on to write this, which I quote:

Endless discussions as to the true diagnosis must give way to some radical cure.  We know enough to make a beginning.  At least, we know enough to know where to begin.  We must begin with ourselves.  General criticism of “Methodism” must give way to clear, incisive and detailed criticism of a Methodist.   Rigorous self-examination is demanded.  When a man thinks he has “explained” the parlous condition of the Church by reference to the radio, Sunday movies, new building areas, or whatever other cause is our long category takes his fancy, he thinks also that the responsibility for the situation is not his, and that there is nothing to be done about it.

I couldn’t agree more.  A pair of books I read at Pure Life, Calvary Road and We Would See Jesus (by Roy Hession) argue that revival must begin within our own hearts.   We cannot lead anyone where we have not first been.   The Cleveland District superintendent, Joe Green, reminded me of the conviction of the late Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, who wrote,

The greatest need of my congregation is my own personal holiness.

Sangster goes on….

On that dark betrayal night, when our Lord said to His disciples, “One of you shall betray me,” John did not say, “Is it Peter?”   Peter did not say, “Is it John?”   They all said, “Lord, is it I?”

To that point, I believe, the grace of God is constraining Methodists at this time of celebration [he is writing near the bicentennial of Wesley’s Aldersgate experience].   The pew has been blaming the pulpit: the pulpit has been blaming the pew.  The pew says that the preaching is lifeless and irrelevant: the pulpit says the people are absent or prayerless.  Back and forward the blame has gone, and nothing will be done till the utter folly of this mutual recrimination is seen as folly, and pulpit and pew alike humble themselves before the Cross, confessing their own sins, and saying, “Lord, is it I?”

He moves into addressing the cultural malaise towards denominational-ism and the heightened attitude of church-goers forgoing identification with any one group, preferring being spiritual but not religious (remember, he’s writing in 1938!).    He laments our sacrifice of our distinctiveness as Methodists for a more tolerant, unified, catholic Church.   Of this, he writes,

If we are right in our supposition that some do not regret the loss of our distinctiveness in the belief that it will aid the triumph of true catholicity, their satisfaction is surely misplaced.  Catholicity is one of the things that can always look after itself.  To get near to God is to get near to those who are near to Him.   It is a blessed by-product of the holy life.  It need not be strained for, either in lopping off the characteristic differences of the denominations, or by copying customs, precious to others, yet learned for no deeper reason than the desire to be alike.  If we all aim, with a single eye, to get near our blessed Lord, we shall get near to one another.  The hill of Calvary is not as large as all that.  Those who can touch the wood can touch each other.

I’ll conclude with his 4 questions in the middle of the book, each of which the rest of the book aim to answer.   As he analyses the Oxford Group Movement (Groupers) of his day and what they have in common with Methodism’s genesis, he asks,

1. Can Methodism recover fellowship?  (meaning, our distinctive class meetings which urge one another towards Christian perfection, or holiness).

2.  Can Methodism recover assurance?  (meaning, a positive, robust message of the Gospel characterized by a great confidence in the God of our salvation.  In a confused world the Methodist preachers were sure.  I love this line:  “The pioneers of the Evangelical Revival never began a sermon with the phrase beloved by modern preachers, ‘I feel I have a feeling which I feel you feel as well.'”)

3.  Can Methodism recover her passion for holiness?  (John Wesley, he reminds us, believed that sanctification was the chief reason God raised the Methodists up.   Losing this note in both our preaching and practice is, in my opinion, our death sentence).

4. Can Methodism recover her zeal for personal evangelism?  (meaning, the early Methodists, enlivened by the power of cancelled sin in their personal lives could not keep it a secret.   Religion has become too much a private matter, he says (1938!!) and winning souls is no longer the objective of the pastor nor the layperson – instead, maintenance of a machine is the goal).

I believe the answer to all four of these questions is YES and AMEN!   I hope you feel the same.   I pray that it will be so, and I pray it begins with me.